Dov Abramson, Ner Mitzvah, 2003
613 Yahrzeit Candles (Aluminum, wax and paper)
Collection of the Jewish Museum in NY

 

“For each commandment is a candle, and the Torah is light” (Proverbs 6:23)

Since the 6th-11th century CE we find the 613 commandments of the Torah listed in the framework of various inventory-like lists, referred to as “Minyanei HaMitzvot” (Counting of the Commandments). In these lists we find glorious directives (“I am the Lord your God”) alongside prohibitions which one might say are naturally embedded in human nature (”Thou shall not kill”), enigmatic laws (”They shall be as Totafot between your eyes”), and even seemingly mundane and trivial issues (“And you shall make a banister for your roof”).

Ner Mitzvah presents a visual alternative for “Minyan HaMitzvot”, and displays the commandments not only as spirit, but as matter, albeit illuminating. The matter is uniform and serial, almost industrial, and at first glance it may seem as though all 613 commandments have come off the same assembly line, and differ only at the label. At a closer look, we see that each label bears icons that relate to each commandment and its applications, much like the icons one would find on garments, instructing how to wash and dry them. The instructions printed on the label deal with who is obligated by this commandment (men / women / both), when and where it applies (only in Israel / the entire world), and what the punishment is for he or she who transgresses the commandment.

Ner Mitzvah deals with the relations between the different particles that the Torah – and through that, Judaism – consists of, and raises questions about the similarities and differences between these particles, and how the viewers feels when confronted with them.