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A Binder for Isaac
A wimpel or Torah binder is made by a mother from her baby’s swaddling cloth after the circumcision. She decorates it with a blessing for her child and brings it to the synagogue when the baby is weaned.
Focusing on the function of a Torah binder and the act of binding, led me to the story of the Binding of Isaac, the Akedah in Hebrew. So, I chose Isaac to be the honoree and I ‘invited’ his mother Sarah to be the artist. She paints herself into the wimpel twice: once when the messengers bless her with a child, and again when, according to a midrash, she gets to see the distant horrific potential act on Mt.Moriah.
My Torah binder twists itself around Isaac and binds him to the altar. Catastrophe is averted when Avraham hears his name called out. As I imagine it, it is Sarah’s voice he hears-not an angel’s. After all, there is a precedent: earlier God told Abraham to listen to Sarah, and so he does again. But after the Binding, Sarah dies and I take over painting Isaac’s wimpel.
The blessing in colored letters reads:
Isaac son of Avraham and Sarah was born in a good constellation (mazal tov) 15 Nisan 2048
May Hashem raise him to Torah, huppah (i.e. marriage) and good deeds
Accompanying this traditional blessing, five Biblical scenes take us through Isaac’s life: the birth announcement, preparing for the sacrifice on Moriah, the Binding of Isaac, Rebecca’s arrival, and finally, Isaac blessing his son Jacob. Blessings abound…
The wimpel tradition began in southern Germany in the 1600’s; the earliest examples were mostly embroidered. In the 1800’s we see many more painted wimpels and often by hired artists. As much as I love to embroider, I left my needle in its case and trusted my paint brush and pens. I broke with tradition again by using script for the traditional formulaic blessing. I wanted to save the formal lettering style for the relevant Torah quotes which I added to each scene. These are in the black square letters we usually see in the Torah scroll.
Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art, “Wimpel! Wrapped Wishes” (Dec.09-Feb 21, 2010)
Old Deerfield Painters’ Group Annual Show, Deerfield, MA (August 2010)