Our Holy Ark and Chandelier: Fruits of the Tree of Life

By Mordehai Wosk

Or Shalom's Aron Kodesh and chandelier were installed just in time for Parshat Bereishit in 1995. Along with a new Sefer Torah, these items were donated by Morris J. and Dena Wosk, in honour of the Bar Mitzvah of their first grandson, Ariel.

An aesthetics committee consisting of Reva Malkin, Sheryl Sorokin, and Hana and Moredehai Wosk determined the theme and design, and oversaw construction of the Ark. The theme of The Tree of Life was quickly identified as a common vision. Numerous sources were consulted in the process of design, including: rabbis, the Encyclopaedia Judaica, history of art books, photos and visits to many synagogues around the world.

William Switzer, internationally known maker of fine furniture (and Master Aron Kodesh builder) was chosen for this challenging job. With the assistance of his outstanding staff, which includes his daughter Rene Bellas, Yulie (design) and Francisco (finishing), the project was completed in six months. The Ark was hand carved in Spain, shipped by boat, and finished in Vancouver with wood stain, gold leaf, knobs and upholstery.

lluminating several elements in the design can help us to understand the spiritual meaning and significance of this Aron Kodesh. The Hebrew words eitz chaim hee (it is a tree of life) are carved into the Ark reminding us of our purpose, which is to take hold of the wisdom of the Torah, to nurture ourselves from the light of the Garden of Eden, and to thereby live holy lives. The two hand-carved pillars in front of the Aron are elements taken from King Solomon`s Temple. Referred to as Yahin and Boaz, their original significance has been obscured, but they are commonly thought to represent two Trees if Life, cosmic pillars, or loving kindness, (Chesed) and strength (Gevurah)

At the sides of the Aaron Kodesh are a carved branch and leaf motif evoking the ambiance of peace (shalom). Ten golden flowers, each placed according to the Kabalistic Tree of Life (the Ten Sephirot), come to life when sunlight washes through the window. The Ten Sephirot are there for our contemplation during services as well as for educational opportunities in classes. The doors were designed to resemble temple gates, so that the Ark would always point to something beyond itself. The Ark points to the Torah, the Torah points to our relationship with God, ultimately to infuse our lives and world with holiness.

The iron chandelier was hand-cast in Florence, Italy. It was glazed with green brown and reds. Subtle splashes of gold leaf help to create the sense of sunlight reflecting through the branches of the Tree of Life. The interpretations of these symbols are not limited to the above. They are open to ongoing associations and reflective contemplations.



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