Lamed Vav: Paintings by Peter Leventhal

On View:

September 1, 2015 – June 30, 2016

Opening Reception:

Wednesday, October 21, 2015, 5:30-7:30 pm, with a program at 6:30 pm

Lamed VavniksLamed Vavniks are 36 ordinary people whose inherent purity of spirit empowers them to rescue humankind from ultimate destruction. They appear in the Book of Genesis, which describes the destruction of two sin-ridden cities, Sodom and Gomorrah. God informs Abraham that God will save Sodom if presented with ten righteous men. Legend says that at all times there are thirty-six people, known in Yiddish as the lamed vavniks, whose good works protect humankind from disaster.

The select “Thirty-Six” have access to the Shekhina, the Divine Presence of God. With this special access to God’s intimate nature, the “Thirty-Six” are able to bear the burden of the world’s problems. The “Thirty-Six” is known in Hebrew as the tzadikim nistarim, the Hidden Righteous Ones. The “Thirty-Six” are oblivious that they are chosen. Were they to find out that they are part of this group, chaos would erupt.

The “Thirty-Six” do not know each other, as anonymity is part of the honor bestowed upon them. It is speculated that the Mashiach, the Jewish Messiah, is one of the “Thirty-Six” at all times.

In Hebrew gematria, numerology, letters, words, and phrases have numerical values. The letter lamed equals 30, and vav, the number 6; therefore, lamed vav equals 36, a multiple of 18, symbolizing chai, or life, 36 implying “double life.” Perhaps this means that the “Thirty-Six” possess an extra life, an extra layer of protection to keep the rest of the world safe.

Peter Leventhal imagines the lamed vavniks as regular people in his own life. His relatives, Mexican neighbors, and ordinary people with whom he has come into contact are featured among his paintings. Leventhal’s work confirms that it is the average people in the world, who keep it in peace and in motion, without whom our world would be a much darker place.

Presented by the Irma L. and Abram S. Croll Center for Jewish Learning and Culture, with the support of George, z”l, and Mildred Weissman.