Book about Hebrew alphabet is truly stunning

BY ROBERT A. COHN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF EMERITUS

Every once in a while a book lands on my desk that truly stands out from the hundreds of others it has been my pleasure to read and review over the years. This is certainly the case with a truly stunning book, Beyond the Beyond: Emanations of Love, with words by Esther Scharf and paintings by her husband, American expressionist Max R. Scharf. Esther Scharf is a trained social worker whose professional skills and wisdom have helped countless people she has counseled over the years. She is also known as Morah L’Hitbodedut, a certified teacher of Jewish meditation, and both her therapeutic skills as well as her spirituality, along with that of artist Max R. Scharf, come through on every page of this breathtakingly beautiful book.

“All my life I have loved the Hebrew alphabet,” writes Esther Scharf. “I first knew them when I was 4 years old, and they have always been alive for me. Through my reading and learning from ancient and modern Jewish texts and wonderful teachers, I have pleasantly discovered that these Letters are indeed powerful, full of creative energy, light and love. It is said that the Hebrew Letters are the vehicles God uses to continually create the world. …They are 22 visions of God’s loving energy of creation.”

Esther Scharf’s vivid and evocative use of the written word is matched perfectly by the artistic creative energy of her husband and partner, Max R. Scharf, who was formally trained at the School of Fine Arts at Washington University and who has perfected his distinctive impressionist and expressionist styles over 30 years.

For each of the 22 letters discussed with profound emotion and insight by Esther Scharf, there is a stunning, brilliantly executed illustration colored to perfection by Max R. Scharf. They can be appreciated in the full, large format splendor at his studio in the Central West End.

An excellent example of the creative and spiritual collaboration between the writer Esther Scharf and the painter Max Scharf is their section on alef, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which Esther Scharf discusses under the heading “Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh,” or in English, “I Am that I Am,” the mysterious description which God gave of Godself when revealing God’s essence to Moses.

“I am using this name of God to begin my meditations,” writes Esther Scharf. “It is the name God revealed to Moses. For me this name is an affirmation that says, I am turning my will over to the God’s will for me. I want to be what God intended me to be.”

To accompany Esther Scharf’s powerful and moving words, the first illustration of a Hebrew letter by Max R. Scharf is equally strong and evocative. The large alef, black against a vivid yellow is shown surrounded by a light blue sky and white clouds, in turn surrounded by the darker blue of the cosmos. Illustrations of the planets Saturn and Earth flank the alef, and the top half of the illustration contains the Shield of David, white against a primary red sun, from which golden rays of creation emanate.

My attempt to verbally describe Max Scharf’s paintings of the Hebrew letters of necessity must fail, since only the words of Esther Scharf, which inspired them can provide the perfect match to his work. Beyond the Beyond: Emanations of Love, described by its creators as “connecting to the Divine Source of Love Through Meditations on the Hebrew Letters,” more than succeeds in attaining this lofty goal.

This incredibly beautiful book would make a dazzling gift for a loved one, to celebrate a simcha, such as a wedding, anniversary, bar or bat mitzvah, or to comfort one during a time of bereavement. The book is available at major local bookstores.

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