The Temple Beth David Mosaic: A Reminder to Do Mitzvot
by Jason Marshall
In February 2012, Temple Beth David in Spring Hill, Florida, embarked on a mission to develop a piece of art. It would not be just a piece of art, however; it also would embody something with much greater meaning.
The Torah tells us that we must not only think about mitzvot (ethical acts) but also perform them. With this concept in mind, Rabbi Lenny Sarko approached Barbara Blavatt, a congregant and retired art teacher and asked for her help to create a work of art that would involve the entire congregation. When she presented several sketches of tile mosaics to the Temple Beth David board and a small group of congregants, the project officially got underway.
On an extremely cold Florida morning, the Temple Beth David family gathered together to watch as the majority of the mosaic’s tiles were placed on the board. This historic moment provided members with a much-appreciated opportunity to leave their indelible fingerprints on this beautiful and special Shavuot gift to our beloved congregation. Once again, on May 14, 2013, the synagogue family came together to watch as Rabbi Sarko — with help from two of the mosaic’s architects — formally unveiled the four-foot by eight-foot tile mosaic whose words and symbols exemplify Torah and our devotion to it.
Front and center within the Torah scroll are the words shema (hear), t’filah (prayer), tzedakah (charity), mitzvot, and mishpah (language), all of which represent the essence of what we are taught as Jews: to help those in our community during times of struggle, to be cognizant of their pleas, and to be there for them always.
In the area around the Torah scroll, we see these words: tikkun olam (repair of the world), Shabbat (day of rest), shalom (hello, goodbye, and peace), and chai (life). These words represent the ideas that God wants us to bring peace to our world, and to be bearers of good will, all of which ties back to the idea that mitzvot are not merely that which ought to be preached, but that we have an obligation to practice what we preach.
I believe that what truly brings this mosaic to life is that the words in the center of the Torah scroll pop out from rays of light, leading to larger words—that command us to greater action. The nine words at the top of the mosaic are from the V’ahavta, the prayer that immediately follows the Shema, and provides the why behind our actions:
L’maan tizk’ru vaasitem et kol mitzvotai vih’yitem k’doshim l’Eloheichem.
In order to remember and do all My commandments and to be holy to your God.
The key word in the phrase above is vaasitem, “to do,” which is a positive commandment within the Torah. The Hebrew root ahsah not only means “to do” but, within the Talmud also means “to create.” As already noted, in our tradition it is not sufficient merely to pray or to think about doing good deeds. Rather, if Judaism is to be relevant to us in our day, it is necessary for us to do mitzvot, and our mosaic is a beautiful reminder of the importance of this commandment.
Jason Marshall is a member of Temple Beth David, where he sings in the choir and leads the effort to create a young adult group within the congregation. He encourages visitors to the area to view the mosaic at 13158 Antelope Street.