Back in 1979, the rabbi of the congregation I belonged to gave an impassioned sermon on something that had troubled him deeply. He had visited a used bookshop in New York City and discovered amongst its treasures a Bible that had been given to a boy of the congregation when he had reached the age of thirteen.
At that age, in the Jewish tradition, a boy becomes responsible for his actions. The ceremony that celebrates that occasion is called a Bar Mitzvah. It consists of the boy reading from the Bible the portion that is assigned for that week. We read the five books from the beginning to end—Genesis through Deuteronomy—over the period of a year. Once we complete the reading, which occurs shortly after we celebrate our New Year, we start over again. We read the Bible, which we call the Torah, over and over and over again.
Each time we read that Torah, we learn something that may have escaped us in prior readings. This goes on throughout our adult lives. It went on throughout the lives of our ancestors, and it will go on through the lives of my grandchildren and their children.
There is much wisdom in the five Books, wisdom that is of the ages, which means for me that it doesn't go out of style. It has to do with relationships between people, with hardships, with greed and avarice, with deception, with honor, all of which relates to our lives today, tomorrow, and yesterday.
The rabbi was concerned that the boy had taken this token of an honorable tradition and sold it. He reminded us that there is a custom, seldom invoked, that requests a man to copy his own Bible before the end of his days.
That idea rang a bell for me. I had time. I had learned to letter and draw to earn a livelihood. Why not see if I could do something like that?
One morning when I awakened, I looked out at the sky and realized how infinite are its colors, its cloud formations, at night, in the daytime, during the various seasons, and everything in between.
I was able then to connect the infinite wisdom of the words of Exodus with the never-ending magic of the sky. I made a vow to myself: "Sam, you will paint forty skies, one for each chapter of Exodus, and in the sky you will embroider the delicacy of the words in both English and Hebrew."
The project gripped me. The wisdom of the words and the beauty of the skies occupied me for some four years. There were days I thought I'd never finish.
I can hardly look at a sky now and not wonder whether it is a better one than those I painted. Not all skies are from Nature, you know. Some are invented, which makes it fun.
Exodus is a cry fro freedom, and that's what it is all about. As Abraham Lincoln said, "this nation shall have a new birth of freedom," which to me means freedom needs to be born anew in each generation, and I guess each generation has to earn it.
Sam Fink is an original. A multi-talented artist of inimitable range, he first learned to hand-letter from his father, sitting hour after hour practicing the craft. He and his wife Adele raised two sons as Sam studied at the National Academy and the Art Students' League, and later joined the world-renowned advertising agency Young & Rubicam as an art director. Later, he taught at the Pratt Institute and made professional contributions to Lands' End.
For the past twenty years, Sam has begun to teach and entertain adults and children alike with vibrantly illustrated texts of American history. Along with The Constitution of the United States of America, done in pen and ink for Random House in 1987, he has produced The Gettysburg Address, The Fifty-six Who Signed, and The Declaration of Independence: The Words that Made America. Since creating The Constitution for Welcome in color, he has also done the same for The Gettysburg Address. These two were followed by The Book of Exodus and Give it all, Give it Now.