Each week we invite a different liberal rabbi or Jewish thought leader to write a “Taste of Torah” on the weekly portion. To receive LAASOK’s Taste of Torah by email each week, subscribe to our newsletter.
This week’s author is Rabbi Stacey Blank.
Rabbi Stacey Blank is the Director of Education and Leadership Development for the World Union for Progressive Judaism. She previously served as the rabbi of Kehilat Shir Chadash in Tzur Hadassah (2013-2021) and Kehilat Darchei Noam in Ramat HaSharon (2007-2012). She has lived in Jerusalem since 2005, and writes stories, poems and feminist prayer.
Ki Tisa: A Celebration of Creativity
It has always bothered me that standardized tests for assessing intelligence focus on subjects like mathematics, logic and reading. I believe in multiple intelligences and that creativity is not only a sign of intelligence but also an important ingredient for success.
In Ki Tisa, God designates an artist to lead the design of the Tabernacle, which is to serve as the place of sacred communion between God and the Israelites. God says to Moses: “See, I have singled out by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. I have endowed him with wisdom, insight and knowledge in every kind of craft” (Exodus 31:2-3). The name Betzalel means “in the shadow of G-d”. His creative powers are defined as the combination of “wisdom, insight and knowledge”.
Our sages derive some beautiful ideas about creativity from this passage. The Ramban (commentary to Exodus 31:2) understood Betzalel’s creative power as understanding the secrets of the creation of the world. On the other hand, the Midrash (B‘midbar Rabbah 12:10) teaches that the act of creativity as exemplified by Betzalel is “to toil in (pursuit of) wisdom and knowledge and talent.” I take these two teachings together to learn that creativity is the mystical fusion of inspiration and hard work.
“Creativity is the mystical fusion of inspiration and hard work.”
Rashi sees a formula for the creative process through Betzalel’s qualities. He teaches: “Wisdom is what a person hears from others and learns; Insight is how one understands and integrates what she has learned; and Knowledge is Divine inspiration” (commentary to Exodus 31:2). Creativity, therefore, occurs through a person’s synthesis of received Divine inspiration with her interactions with her environment – both nurture and nature.
The Jewish tradition is one of glorious creativity – the pathos of our patriarchs and matriarchs, vivid descriptions of Israel in Egypt, Moses’ song and Miriam’s music at the Red Sea. The Rabbinic tradition is one of “seventy faces to Torah”, limitless possibilities of interpretation.
The prophet in Lamentations (5:21) asks God, and we pray at the end of every Torah reading service when we return the Torah to the ark, to “renew our days as of old.” We do this when we reinterpret Torah for application in our modern world and when we combine new rituals with age-old traditions that express the joys and sorrows of our lives.
“’Renew our days as of old’: We do this when we reinterpret Torah for application in our modern world.”
God is the Creator and we are created in God’s image, endowed with wisdom, insight, and knowledge. We all have the potential to act as Betzalel – to be God’s shadow and enhance the beauty of our blessed world and of humanity.