Friday, March 16, 2007

Creativity and the Ark

The Holy Ark had an interesting method of construction. It was a wooden box that was encased in gold, from within and without (Ex. 37:2). It is understandable to cover it in gold on the outside. However, the gold on the inside would never be visible to anyone. Why encase it from within?

Rabbi Hirsch takes the aron as a symbol for the Jewish nation's relationship to personal and individual expression. The center of the ark is wooden. Wood is a material which, in its natural state, changes and grows over time. It is constantly developing, branching out in new and different directions, covering new ground, and sprouting new leaves and fruit. It is a symbol for the creative element in each person. Throughout our lives, we change, as wood does. We grow physically, emotionally and spiritually. We continually conceive of new ideas, and give birth to concepts and novellae. We are creative beings by nature.

The coating of the wood, on the other hand, is gold. Gold, the quintessential metal, is rigid and strong. It can withstand pressure and is not flexible. It symbolizes the restrictive, definitive rigor of the halacha.

Thus, the ark symbolizes a person's creative domain and its limits. We are contained by the strictures of the essential law. However, within its bounds, we are free to grow and invent with the full creative capacity that God endowed within us.

Rav Kook takes the creative enterprise and sees it as an ethical and religious imperative. In ארות הקודש, he develops the idea that human creativity is a vestige of prophecy. The strictures of societal pressure choke the lofty creative spirit. Within the golden bounds of the halacha, "we are charged by the Divine to produce with truth and honesty, that which our souls show us, and to bring our celestial insight from the abstract to the concrete..."

"The culling of sparks of glorious truth from the creative stores of all brightens the world, and bring about the revelation ultimate, complete truth of God." Rav Kook sees the innovative expression latent in us all as a pre-requisite for the glory of God to be clearly visible in our world.

In אורות התורה (ch. 13), he goes on to explain that the true elements of innovation and pure creativity are only to be experienced in the land of Israel. This is because the true unity of subject across the vast contents of the torah can only be truly appreciated in the Holy Land. Unity of thought is a necessary element for creative activity. The difference between the Babylonian Talmud and the Jerusalem one is indicative of this: the Babylonian must divide, categorize and feel about in the dark for the contours of God's law, while, in the Jerusalem Talmud, the diverse and disparate elements of halacha and hashkafa are effortlessly seen as part of an organic whole. There, the search for truth is as easy as bringing a candle to illuminate the dark. Perhaps this is the meaning of the statement, 'אוירא דארץ ישראל מחכים.' The very atmosphere in the Holy Land enlightens the mind and spirit (B. Bath. 258b).