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Torah, Creativity & the Arts-Parsha Perspective - 5774

Parsha Yayera:

Creativity, Sacrifice and Vision  by Richard Borah

In this parsha, Avraham receives a prophetic vision in which God commands him to go to Moriah with his son Yitzchak and to offer him up as a sacrifice to God.  The Torah states (Bereisheit 22, 1-2):

1. And it came to pass after these things, that God tested Abraham, and He said to him, "Abraham," and he said, "Here I am."

 

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after these things: Some of our Sages say (Sanh. 89b) [that this happened]: after the words [translating “devarim” as “words”] of Satan, who was accusing and saying, “Of every feast that Abraham made, he did not sacrifice before You one bull or one ram!” He [God] said to him, “Does he do anything but for his son? Yet, if I were to say to him, ‘Sacrifice him before Me,’ he would not withhold [him].” And some say, “after the words of Ishmael,” who was boasting to Isaac that he was circumcised at the age of thirteen, and he did not protest. Isaac said to him, “With one organ you intimidate me? If the Holy One, blessed be He, said to me, ‘Sacrifice yourself before Me,’ I would not hold back.” - Cf. Gen. Rabbah 55:4.

 

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Here I am: This is the reply of the pious. It is an expression of humility and an expression of readiness. — [from Tan. Vayera 22]

 

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2. And He said, "Please take your son, your only one, whom you love, yea, Isaac, and go away to the land of Moriah and bring him up there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains, of which I will tell you."

 

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God’s request of Avraham to bring his son to sacrifice (known as “Akeidas Yitzchak”) has a profound impact on Avraham, Yitzchak and Sara and is a pivotal moment in Jewish history.  When the angel stays Avraham from slaughtering his son, a transformation takes place in Avraham.  The Torah states:

11. And an angel of God called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham! Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am."

 

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12. And he said, "Do not stretch forth your hand to the lad, nor do the slightest thing to him, for now I know that you are a God fearing man, and you did not withhold your son, your only one, from Me."

 

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God expresses Avraham’s transformation: “for now I know that you are a God fearing man, and you did not withhold your son, your only one, from Me.  (Bereisheit 22,12).

I would like to try to analyze this impact of the sacrificial act on Avraham and why it was essential before he was declared to be “a God-fearing man”   ???? ????? ???????? ??????)).  Then I would like to discuss the role of sacrifice in prophecy, Torah scholarship and in the arts. 

The relationship between a human being and God is a complex one.  Judaism holds strongly to the idea that the ways of the Torah are ways of pleasantness (“darchei noam”).  As Maimonides states in the Mishneh Torah, at the end of  the 4th chapter of the Laws of Chanukah:

Peace is great, for the entire Torah was given to bring about peace within the world, as [Proverbs 3:17] states: "Its ways are pleasant ways and all its paths are peace."

But the other dimension of this relationship is the Torah’s requirement that we accept  the “yoke” or “burden” of Torah as an absolute obligation that precedes and precludes all others.  Although the system of Torah is perfectly designed to be a life that is pleasant and peaceful, there are situations where the Torah will require extreme levels of sacrifice.  In this regard, the Torah is also a “yoke” to be borne by the Jew.    The element of sacrifice in Judaism, in my opinion, is not one of the diminishment of self for the good of another, such as with a mother sacrificing her needs for a child. God, as we hold, is complete within Himself and has absolutely no need of our sacrifice for His benefit.  The sacrifice that man makes to fulfill God’s will is an expression of the nature of the man-God relationship.  God, as the Creator and Sustainer of the world and the one True Existence, must be the primary relationship in a person’s life.  When an act violates this man-God relationship in that it values something else to a greater degree than God, the man-God relationship becomes meaningless and false.  The only way for man to experience the truth of God to any degree, is to place God, not only first, but in an absolutely superior category of relationship to anything else.    This might be conceived through the mundane example of a person valuing their coin collection and their child.  The child is not only loved more than the coins, but is placed (hopefully) in a superior category of love, which cannot be compared to the coins at all.

Avraham’s offering of Yitzchak was his offering of everything he valued.  Yitzchak was not only the beloved son, but the future of Avraham’s quest to establish a people that would bring monotheism to the world.  The reaction of Sara to the Akeidah would also result in her being lost to Avraham.  The sacrifice of Yitzchak was Avraham demonstrating that all other categories of attachment are of no consequence in comparison to the relationship that he had with God.  This relationship is centered not on only wonder and amazement, but on obedience and recognition of the primary idea that God is the only true reality and all others are meaningless in comparison. Perhaps this is one reason why the Akeidah has been, perhaps, the most torturous part of the Torah narrative and one that has engendered so much dread in the response from scholars and artists.  Although the knife was withheld and Yitzchak was not sacrificed, the idea was established  at the root of Judaism that God can require the ultimate sacrifice and only those willing to commit to making it can truly enter the covenant with Him.  This realization has much meaning in light of the history of the Jewish people in exile and the millions tormented and slaughtered throughout these two millennia.  Contemporary Jewish poets and artists have often called upon the Akeidah to express their despair in the wake of the Holocaust’s brutal annihilation of millions of innocents.  Heritage, an abstract poem written by Haim Gouri in 1960, focuses on the impact the event had on Isaac after the Akeidah and displays the affect it has had on the Jewish  weltanschauung in its wake. 

HERITAGE by Haim Gouri

The ram came last of all.  And Abraham did not know that it came to answer the boy’s question – first of his strength when his day was on the wane.

The old man raised his head.  Seeing that it was no dream and that the angel stood there – the knife slipped from his hand. The boy, released from his bonds, saw his father’s back.

Isaac, as the story goes, was not sacrificed.  He lived for many years, saw what pleasure had to offer, until his eyesight dimmed.

But he bequeathed that hour to his offspring.  They are born with a knife in their hearts.

The closing line of this poem describes the Jewish person as “born with a knife in their heart”.  There is a similar phrase in the Torah that comes to mind when reading this seemingly despairing line.  The Torah states in Devarim 30:6: 

And the Lord, your God, will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, [so that you may] love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, for the sake of your life.

 

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The phrase “circumcise your heart” echoes the last line of Gouri’s poem “They are born with a knife in their hearts”, although I don’t know if it was the poet’s intent (which would make it even more interesting to me.)  The Akeidah expresses not only Avraham’s transformation but the clarification that God is a “jealous God” in the sense that those who long to have a relationship with Him must set all other things aside, if the situation requires it.  Many Jews have lived torturous lives that could have converted or abandoned their observance.  But their “hearts were circumcised” in this sense of being marked as belonging to God in even the most difficult of circumstances.  We now live, for the most part in a time of “darchei noam” where the Torah’s ways of peace and tranquility are available to us.  But so did Avraham, before the trial of the Akeidah.  Things can change and have changed in the past very quickly.  What makes the Jew eternal is the willingness to offer themselves, if need be, on the altar of God.

There are meaningful parallels among the prophet, the great scholar and the great artists.  All are privy to an inspired vision and possess exceptional imaginative qualities.  In addition, like the visionary scholar, both the prophet and the artists must be willing to sacrifice all for the realization of their vision.   Maimonides in the Mishneh Torah, Laws of Learning Torah 3,6 states:

A person whose heart inspires him to fulfill this mitzvah in a fitting manner and to become crowned with the crown of Torah should not divert his attention to other matters.  He should not set his intent on acquiring Torah together with wealth and honor simultaneously.  (Rather) this is the path of Torah;  Eat bread with salt, drink water in small measure, sleep on the ground, live a life of difficulty, and toil in Torah.

Most commentators have explained that this is not an optimal situation that a Torah scholar should strive for.  But if the situation requires it, the crown of Torah requires this level of self-sacrifice in order for it to be attained.   The prophet too, although esteemed by the Torah as the highest level of human existence, is also often called upon to live a torturous life.  Maimonides describes the state of the prophet as being a person compelled to communicate their vision, regardless of the danger and destruction it might bring to the prophet personally.  He states in the “Guide for the Perplexed”, Book 2, Chapter 37:

It is further the nature of this element in man that he who possesses an additional degree of that influence is compelled to address his fellow-men, under all circumstances, whether he is listen to or not, even if he injures himself thereby. Thus we find prophets that did not leave off speaking to people until they were slain; it is this divine influence that moves them, that does not allow them to rest in any way, though they might bring upon themselves great evils by their action. E.g., when Jeremiah was despised, like other teachers and scholars of his age, he could not, though he desired it, withhold his prophecy, or cease from reminding the people of the truth which they rejected.

The true artist also possesses a strong sense of being compelled to express his or her vision. This honest expression of the artist’s vision may bring with it poverty, obscurity, ridicule and a life that lacks security, peace or a sense of fulfillment.  Many artists have described this experience:

The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality.   T.S. Eliot

One may have a blazing hearth in one’s soul and yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passers-by see only a wisp of smoke.    Vincent Van Gogh

True art is characterized by an irresistible urge in the creative artist.   Albert Einstein

Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression.  Isaac Bashevis Singer

I believe what gives the great artists such an exalted place in society is this idea that they have a vision that partakes of some unique truth and beauty.  Museums are more than a display area for art works.  They resemble temples or shrines to the visions of these artists.  Like religion, although there are few that experience art in a deep and moving way, there is a broad recognition of its greatness and importance.  It is rare that a society, even in difficult financial times, will protest monies used to maintain art museums.

Great, recognized artists such as Ludwig von Beethoven, Vincent Van Gogh, and T.S.  Elliot are viewed by their societies as important visionaries whose art conveys important insight.   In many ways the artist has replaced the prophet in the mind of people as the unique individual who is in some sense, “chosen” to communicate a great imaginative vision.   This gives artists their great mystique and even results in a form of “worship” by those who are moved by them.  Although artists before the nineteen century were fundamentally religious and religious art dominated the world of art, current artists are for the most part, decidedly secular.  In Jewish arts this is also true as Modern Israel has created an important national art scene in all areas.   Although there are, of course, observant artists in all areas, they remain a minimal and marginal part of the country’s poets, painters and classical composers.   Israel is still far from the vision of Rav Kook, regarding modern Jewish art.  As stated in the text “Vision of Redemption-The Educational Philosophy of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook in Historical Perspective by Justin Harley Lewis:

Rabbi Kook advocates institutions for the development of polished Hebrew music, poetry and prose to ignite in man the assumed innate idea of the divine…The fine arts, then as well as beeles lettres…are viewed as key links in a chain that is to reinforce the idea of a universal harmony that will lead to the recognition of the greatness of the Creator.

To summarize this analysis, all individuals, whether scholar or artists, who have accepted the “yoke of heaven” and have incorporated the sacrifice of the Akeidah into their lives, ( placing the relationship with God at the center) must create within a bounded   sanctified space.   For the scholar this means understanding and studying the Torah within the tradition of our mesorah.  For the artist it means accepting the proscription against idolatrous creation and that which would denigrate God, the Torah or our mesorah.   Creative people are needed to find new insights and new clarifications, whether through commentary, poetry, music or image, but all need to carry this out with a “circumcised heart”.

 

Parsha Lech-Lecha

Creative GenisuL Avraham, Mozart and Professor Steven Nagel by Richard Borah 

 The parsha of Lech Lecha opens with God’s commanding a 75 year-old  Avram  to leave his home and his land and to journey to an unknown destination.  The Torah states:

1. And the Lord said to Abram, "Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you.

 

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This divine command of embarking on personal exile imposed extreme discontinuity on the lives of an aged Avram and Sarai and required  of them an astounding level of philosophical and personal openness to a new way of life.  They embark on an unknown journey that required an unprecedented, grand plan for their future. Their journey marks the starting point of Western civilization.  According to our tradition, Avraham was unique in human history in his independent formulation of transcendental monotheism.  This monotheism is not only the core of Judaism, but is also the root of Islam and Christianity, while other world religions (Hinduism, Shinto) remain rooted in some form of polytheism or pantheism.  It is perhaps in this light that  God states in the Torah that “all the nations of the world will be blessed through you (Avaham)”. Of all the great prophets, sages and leaders of the Jewish people, only Avram (aka Avraham) has the unique quality of being the first.  First, in this case, does not mean first in order only, but first in the sense of establishing a new paradigm that did not exist before.  In many ways the Jewish people are a nation that reflects the personal qualities of the first family and much has been written by our sages about the history of the Jewish people reflecting the personal lives of Avraham and Sara. Their being forced to journey to Egypt due to famine and the miraculous deliverance from the Pharoh of Egypt; the command to journey to Canaan and the many descriptions of Avraham keeping the Torah in some form-these are some of the parallels between Avraham and the Bnei Yisrael that are often cited.  By understanding the qualities of Avraham we can gain some insight into those qualities that the Torah seeks to inculcate in the Jewish people - those by which we can become “a light to the nations” of the world.

The “Torah Shebichtov” (The Written Torah or “Pentateuch”) does not provide any information about the early development of Avram in regards to how he developed into the person chosen to father the Jewish people.  But the Jewish oral tradition is replete with detailed descriptions, accepted as part of our heritage.  Maimonides provides a lengthy description of Avram’s early development in his work, the Mishneh Torah.

After this mighty man was weaned, he began to explore and think.  Though he was a child, he began to think (incessantly) throughout the day and night, wondering: How is it possible for the sphere to continue to revolve without having anyone controlling it? Who is causing it to revolve? Surely, it does not cause itself to revolve.  He had no teacher, nor was there anyone to inform him.  Rather, he was mired in Ur Kasdim among the foolish idolaters.  His father, mother, and all the people (around him) were idol worshipers, and he would worship with them. (However) his heart was exploring and (gaining) understanding.  Ultimately, he appreciated the way of truth and understood the path of righteousness through his accurate comprehension.  He realized that there was one God who controlled the sphere, that He created everything and that there is no other God among all the other entities.  He knew that the entire world was making a mistake.  What caused them to err was their service of the stars and images which made them lose awareness of the truth.” (Laws of Idolaters Chapter 1: Law 3)

In analyzing this description of Maimonides, we find that Avram displayed a profound ability to intensely reflect upon and analyze his observations.  This total absorption and unity of purpose in the process of searching for that which is true is brought out strongly here  (“Though he was a child he began to think throughout the day and night”).  There is an exceptionally passionate curiosity being described. A second quality is one of complete independence of thought.  As it is stated, He had no teacher, nor was there anyone to inform him. Rather he was mired in Ur Kaskim among foolish idolators”).   Total focus on discovering the truth and total independence of thought were among the key qualities that Avram displayed.  Through his own process and discovery he came to two major conclusions:

1-There was one God who created and controlled everything.

2-The entire world was making a mistake about God due to worship service to stars and images.

Avraham was a creative genius in the area of what used to be called metaphysics, defined by Webster as:    a division of philosophy that is concerned with the fundamental nature of reality and being and that includes ontology, cosmology, and often epistemology.”   Maimonides’ depiction clarifies that genius requires a profound intensity of focus.  Even the greatest “natural geniuses” have noted that the perspective that their genius “came easily” is an illusion.  Mozart, often cited as one of the greatest child prodigies and natural musical geniuses, stated: People err who think my art comes easily to me. I assure you, dear friend, nobody has devoted so much time and thought to compositions as I. There is not a famous master whose music I have not industriously studied through many times.”   A similar idea was famously expressed more pithily by the inventor Thomas Edison who wrote, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”.   The great physicist Albert Einstein also noted this in saying, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer”.  Indeed Einstein was known to work unceasingly on a single problem for many years, without any interruption.  Similarly, it is Avraham’s hyper-focus of mind on the problem of the source of creation that is perhaps his most distinguishing intellectual quality.  According to Maimonides this process which started when Avram was 3 years old, continued incessantly until he made his clarifications of transcendental monotheism at the age of 40.  If you or I were able to intensely focus on a particular problem for 37 years, we too might bear amazing results and be considered geniuses.  Reflecting on our thesis that the life of Avraham mirrors that of the Jewish people and that Avraham’s qualities reflect those idealized for the nation, we can suggest that the unceasing, hyper-focus of the Jewish people on the Torah parallels this quality of Avraham search.  Those who have achieved Torah’s full benefit are, without exception, unceasingly involved in its study, regardless of their natural genius.  The great prodigy and scholar Rabbi Elijah Kramer (“the Vilna Gaon”), was said to have studied Torah 20 hours each day, every day.  The learning of Torah for 12 to 15 hours a day was somewhat commonplace throughout Jewish history and continues today.  Although for many not blessed with genius or profound intelligence, the fruits of this labor will not be at the level of our sages or forefathers, the hyper-focus on discovering the Creator through his revealed works is an expression, I believe, of Bnei Yisrael  reflecting Avraham’s intellectual quality as its ideal.

The second quality of Avram that was with him from extreme youth is an exceptional level of independence of thought.  He had no teachers, no cultural guidance from his community and was surrounding by a culture that was uniformly contrary to the transcendental monotheism that he formulated. This quality of independent thinking is more difficult to clarify than that of being able to hyper-focus on an intellectual quest for a long period of time.  What makes a person able to “go their own way” in such a fundamental manner, discarding the beliefs of one’s parents, society and the “great thinkers” of the day? Avraham’s discovery was a singularity in the history of mankind and the beginning of its redemption.  But what qualities allows a person to have this independence of mind and why was Avraham’s independence of mind so unique?  Maimonides identified the faculties of intuition and courage as being an essential component of the prophets and his description in the “Guide for the Perplexed” is relevant here.  He states:

EVERY man possesses a certain amount of courage, otherwise he would not stir to remove anything that might injure him. This psychical force seems to me analogous to the physical force of repulsion. Energy varies like all other forces, being great in one case and small in another. There are, therefore, people who attack a lion, whilst others run away at the sight of a mouse. One attacks a whole army and fights, another is frightened and terrified by the threat of a woman. This courage requires that there be in a man's constitution a certain disposition for it. If man, in accordance with a certain view, employs it more frequently, it develops and increases, but, on the other hand, if it is employed, in accordance with the opposite view, more rarely, it will diminish. From our own youth we remember that there are different degrees of energy among boys.  The same is the case with the intuitive faculty; all possess it, but in different degrees. Man's intuitive power is especially strong in things which he has well comprehended, and in which his mind is much engaged. Thus you may yourself guess correctly that a certain person said or did a certain thing in a certain matter. Some persons are so strong and sound in their imagination and intuitive faculty that, when they assume a thing to be in existence, the reality either entirely or partly confirms their assumption. Although the causes of this assumption are numerous, and include many preceding, succeeding, and present circumstances, by means of the intuitive faculty the intellect can pass over all these causes, and draw inferences from them very quickly, almost instantaneously. This same faculty enables some persons to foretell important coming events. The prophets must have had these two forces, courage and intuition, highly developed, and these were still more strengthened when they were under the influence of the Active Intellect. Their courage was so great that, e.g., Moses, with only a staff in his hand, dared to address a great king in his desire to deliver a nation from his service. He was not frightened or terrified, because he had been told, "I will be with thee" (Exod. iii. 12). The prophets have not all the same degree of courage, but none of them have been entirely without it. Thus Jeremiah is told: "Be not afraid of them," etc. (Jer. i. 8), and Ezekiel is exhorted, "Do not fear them or their word" (Ezek. ii. 6). In the same manner, you find that all prophets possessed great courage. Again, through the excellence of their intuitive faculty, they could quickly foretell the future, but this excellence, as is well known, likewise admits of different degrees.

Avraham had physical courage in risking death from Nimrod for teaching monotheism. But perhaps more importantly, he possessed intellectual courage.  When a person establishes for himself a set of beliefs and a way of life that is contrary to the dominant culture, he requires a courage that results from a high degree of intellectual clarity and a strong dedication to believe and live according to the most truthful conclusions of his or her mind.  Most of us are, to varying degrees, obtaining our sense of self-worth from our recognition by others that we are wise or good or kind.  Avraham and other intellectually courageous individuals ( e.g., Freud, Einstein)  forego this comfort to pursue the truth of their investigations.  A curious contemporary example is the philosopher Thomas Nagel.  Mr. Nagel is an NYU professor whose 1974 piece “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” is described by the New York Times’ Jennifer Schuessler  as a short essay arguing that the subjective experience of consciousness — what philosophers call the “qualia” — could not be fully reduced to the physical aspects of the brain.” (NYT- 2/6/13).   Mr. Nagel has caused a great stir in the philosophical and scientific community with his latest book “Mind and Cosmos- Why the Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature in Almost Certainly False”.   The book has been trounced by leading materialist philosophers such as Brian Liter and Michael Weisberg.   Harvard psychologist (and arch-Darwinian) Steve Pinker dismissed the book as “the shoddy reasoning of a once-great thinker.”  The Guardian newspaper named “Mind and Cosmos” the “most despised science book of 2012”. The philosopher Alva Noe, from the University of California, Berkeley, who gave the book a rare positive notice on NPR’s website said, “He is questioning acertain kind of orthodoxy, and they are responding in the way the orthodox respond.”  The crux of Mr. Nagel’s thesis is that random evolution could not produce conscious beings capable of doing science and philosophy in the 3.8 billion years since life on earth began.  Mr. Nagel calls for an entirely new kind of science, one based on what he calls “natural teleology” — a tendency for the universe to produce certain outcomes, like consciousness.  In his conclusion Mr. Nagel declares that the present “right-thinking consensus” on evolution “will come to seem laughable in a generation or two.”   Mr. Nagel does not favor a theistic explanation but many within the science and philosophical community are, nevertheless, most disturbed by the concern that Intelligent Design advocates are utilizing Mr. Nagel as a support for their positions.  “The book is going to have pernicious real-world effects,” said Mr. Leiter, a philosopher at the University of Chicago, who has frequently chided Mr. Nagel on his widely read blog. He added, “It’s going to be used as a weapon to do damage to the education of biology students.”   On August 18, 2013, Mr. Nagel responding to the furor regarding his book with a brief essay in the New York Times titled , “The Core of ‘Mind and Cosmos’”.  In it he states:… since the long process of biological evolution is responsible for the existence of conscious organisms, and since a purely physical process cannot explain their existence, it follows that biological evolution must be more than just a physical process, and the theory of evolution, if it is to explain the existence of conscious life, must become more than just a physical theory. This means that the scientific outlook, if it aspires to a more complete understanding of nature, must expand to include theories capable of explaining the appearance in the universe of mental phenomena and the subjective points of view in which they occur – theories of a different type from any we have seen so far.

 

What makes Mr. Nagel’s plight relevant to our discussion of Avraham is the fact that he is proposing a major paradigm shift in the fundamental way that physical and mental phenomena are perceived and should be studied.  This resonates with Avraham’s reformulation of reality to including a single transcendental Creator and in how that source should be worshipped (i.e., without idolatrous representation).  Although, unlike Nimrod, I don’t think the scientific and philosophical community will cast Nagel into a fiery furnace, they do seem to be trying to give him some significant “heat” and seek his  professional destruction.  To take it one step further, if we are paralleling Mr. Nagel with Avraham, the idolaters would be the strict Neo-Darwin materialists. Who would be Nimrod?  Mr. Weinberg?  Mr. Lieter? Or perhaps Mr. Hawking is a better choice.

Abraham  a poem by Stephen Mitchell.

What had become very clear to him that night on the fast-disappearing summer pavements

-The air thick with jasmine, the bony cats sniffing among the garbage heaps-

Was that he would be able to take along nothing.  Precisely nothing.  Not even the memory of his face.

Glimpsed some morning in a mirror, or the name of the woman he had loved.  He would have to leave it all behind here, in this world which had come to fit him like his own skin. 

Soon enough, in due time, perhaps in no time at all,

He would have to step out beyond the boundaries of his life.

Move where there is no place to move, grope in the alien light,

Toward a goal he could be sure of never reaching.

 

 

 

 

Torah, Creativity and the Arts

-A Parsha Perspective-

NOAH

 

A publication of observant Artists community ciRcle, Inc.

(www.observantartists.coM)

                            

BY RABBI rICHARD bORAh

Please email comments to obersvantartists@gmail.com

 

            A bold, creative act in the parsha of Noah is the building of the Tower of Babel by Nimrod and the 70 families who repopulated the world after the Great Flood.  This construction was a worldwide effort representing the entire post-flood human population.  The Torah states:  “Let us build us a city and a tower, whose top reaches to heaven; And let us make us a name.” (Bereisheit 11, 4)  This event continues to be relevant to the enduring human need to achieve renown and immortality.  This was of particular concern to the generations after the Flood, having fresh memory of the deluge and the world’s destruction.  All human beings past and present struggle with the conflict between an inner sense of immortality and the realty of a finite existence.   Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik  (“The Rav”) describes in his essay “The Lonely Man of Faith” how great human accomplishments address this basic need for dignity and fame and how it is addressed by man’s technological and artistic accomplisments.  He states:

 

Dignity is linked with fame.  There is no dignity in anonymity.  If one succeeds in putting his message (kerygma) across he may lay claim to dignity.  The silent person, whose message remains hidden and suppressed in the in-depth personality, cannot be considered dignified….(The dignified person) He is a social being, gregarious, communicative, emphasizing the artistic aspect in life and giving priority to form over content, to literary expression over eidos, to practical accomplishments over inner motivation.   He is blessed with the gift of rhetoric, with the faculty of communication, be it the beautiful word, the efficacious machine, the socially acceptable ethic-etiquette, or the hush of the solemn memorial assembly.  (pages 26-27).

 

           It is important to understand that Rabbi Soloveitchik does not disparage the human need for dignity and fame.  On the contrary, he portrays it in this essay as being sanctified by God in the blessing of “be fruitful and multiply and rule the earth”.  Human beings are made to accomplish great things and to build a dignified, human civilization.  This is a part of humanity’s destiny.  So what was the sin of the builders of the Tower?  What quality of this endeavor resulted in God’s punishment of stopping  its construction and the confusion of human languages, with each of the 70 families miraculously speaking a separate language as opposed to the common language they all shared before?

 

        Rabbi Soloveitchik makes clear that human greatness is a sanctioned belief in Judaism.  However, this greatness is qualified by an understanding that mankind’s exalted position as  master of the earth (“be fruitful and multiply ….) is a role carried out as a fulfillment of God’s will and within the parameters that the Creator has provided.  Rabbi Soloveitchik explains this masterful dimension of the human personality, which he calls “Adam the first”,  in the essay “Lonely Man of Faith”.  He states:

In doing all this, Adam the first is trying to carry out the mandate entrusted to him by his Maker who, at dawn of the sixth mysterious day of creation, addressed Himself to man and summoned him to “fill the earth and subdue it.”  It is God who decreed that the story of Adam the first be the great saga of freedom of man-slave who gradually transforms himself into man-master.  (page 19).

 

 

But the Tower of Babel was more than an attempt by mankind to  “make a name” for itself in the Torah-sanctioned  manner of achieving dignity and mastery.   The reason these people were determined to “make a name” is stated in the verse “… so that we will not be scatter abroad upon the whole face of the earth” (Bereisheit 5:4).  Rashi’s comments on this part of the verse, “Lest we be scattered”: “So that He (God) should not bring upon us any blow to scatter us abroad from here”.  The “making of a name” and the establishment of a sign of human mastery and achievement by the Tower was, in this case, an attempt to pre-empt what the post-diluvian community misperceived as God’s battle with them for greatness and dominance.   This is a common pagan myth which finds the gods battling with man for dominance and often has the gods viewing man as a rival that must be vanquished.  According to Rashi, mankind’s destruction in the Great Flood was also viewed by the Tower generation as God’s attempt to prevent man from achieving greatness and dignity.  Relevant to this idea is the Jewish tradition that after the flood, the bodies of people were significantly weakened, resulting in their new need for meat and a much-shortened lifespan.   Perhaps this weakening was also viewed by the people as God’s seeking to subjugate them for His own glory. 

 

When mankind’s civilization-building is rooted in a defiance of God’s creation of man as mortal and as an expression of man’a rejectionof his role as servant or God,  the great achievements take on a demonic nature.  The Pyramids of Egypt are perhaps the most dramatc example of man attempting to defy his mortality and to take on the quality of God’s eternal existence.  Man’s building of great structures and creating art and technology are sanctified when they carry out man’s role of bringing justice, mercy and beauty to the world.  God has provided man with the talents and desires to do this.  But when this drive is distorted to one of expressing human greatness for its own sake, a line has been crossed and  a destructive distortion has occurred in the human beings understanding of their role within creation.

 

Ayn Rand, the author and philosopher, famous for her novels “Atlas Shrugged” and  “The Fountainhead”, as well as her objectivist philosophy, formulated a unique atheistic  individualism which gloried in human accomplishment for its own sake.  For her, these accomplishments were the highest morality and the greatest good.  Although Ms. Rand, the ultimate individualist and libertarian,  would abhor the collectivistic aspect of the Tower of Babel, I believe its purpose of “making a name” for man qua man would be well-aligned with her  most cherished positions.  Ms. Rand famously expressed her philosophy through the characters in her popular novels.   Two  quotes from the novel “The Fountainhead” are cited below which, I believe, to be consistent with the perspective of Nimrod and the builders of the Tower of Babel.

The Fountainhead  Gail Wynand, speaking to Dominique Keating:

"You've never felt how small you were when looking at the ocean?"
He laughed. "Never. Nor looking at the planets. Nor at mountain peaks. Nor at the Grand Canyon. Why should I? When I look at the ocean, I feel the greatness of man. I think of man's magnificent capacity that created this ship to conquer all that senseless space. When I look at mountain peaks, I think of tunnels and dynamite. When I look at the planets, I think of airplanes."

The Fountainhead  Dominique Keating and Gail Wynand:

"I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York's skyline. Particularly when one can't see the details. Just the shapes. The shapes and the thought that made them. The sky over New York and the will of man, made visible. What other religion do we need? And then people tell me about pilgrimages to some dank pesthole in a jungle where they go to do homage to a crumbling

 

temple, to a leering stone monster with a pot belly, created by some leprous savage. Is it beauty and genius they want to see? Do they seek a sense of the sublime? Let them come to New York, stand on the shore of the Hudson, look and kneel. When I see the city from my window--no, I don't feel how small I am--but I feel that if a war came to threaten this, I would like to throw myself into space, over the city, and protect these buildings with my body."

This second quote with regards to the statement of “ I would like to throw myself into space, over the city, and protect these buildings with my body” brings to mind the midrash about the Tower of Babel brought down in the Pirkei Derabi Eliezer  where it is states:

The tower had seven steps from the east and seven from the west.  The bricks were hauled up from one side, the descent was on the other.  If a man fell down and died, no attention was paid to him, but if one brick fell down, they would sit and weep and say: Woe betide us, when will another one be hauled up in its place?  (Pirkei Derabi Eliezer, 24).

Below is a contemporary poem about the Tower of Babel that I think is relevant and beautiful.


Journey 

I stood with you at the Tower of Babel  looking towards the sky 
We stood, proud of the rubbles  that now stood symmetrical  towards heavens 
The blasphemed God thundered in Babylon, once more we stood together 
Loving the decadence of living drinking waters of ether 
Shrieking against God  until He answered by the Ziggurats, towards the sky 
They seemed to claw  holding your hands once more 
No lesson learned from before, God destroyed some more 
You spoke in Unknown Tongues                                                                                                                                                                Voices of Heaven Shrouded in dark Mystery 
The Babble spelled dark incantations but God was not pleased 
They laid your dreams in ruin once more 
Building pyramids with Stepping Stones ancient chants and wails 
tried to stop you 
Confusion reigned and Angels  visited the Earth again 
The Construction of stairs to the heavenly constellation ends always in Tragedy 
There are Temples dedicated to them. 
As for you great builder challenger of God 
I abide with you until you stay still and abide by nature's hierarchy

ldryad
(Grace)

Guardian of Shadows

Deepundergroundpoetry.com

 

 

 

 

Torah, Creativity and the Arts

-A Parsha Perspective-

NOAH

 

A publication of observant Artists community ciRcle, Inc.

(www.observantartists.coM)

                            

BY RABBI rICHARD bORAh

Please email comments to obersvantartists@gmail.com

 

            A bold, creative act in the parsha of Noah is the building of the Tower of Babel by Nimrod and the 70 families who repopulated the world after the Great Flood.  This construction was a worldwide effort representing the entire post-flood human population.  The Torah states:  “Let us build us a city and a tower, whose top reaches to heaven; And let us make us a name.” (Bereisheit 11, 4)  This event continues to be relevant to the enduring human need to achieve renown and immortality.  This was of particular concern to the generations after the Flood, having fresh memory of the deluge and the world’s destruction.  All human beings past and present struggle with the conflict between an inner sense of immortality and the realty of a finite existence.   Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik  (“The Rav”) describes in his essay “The Lonely Man of Faith” how great human accomplishments address this basic need for dignity and fame and how it is addressed by man’s technological and artistic accomplisments.  He states:

 

Dignity is linked with fame.  There is no dignity in anonymity.  If one succeeds in putting his message (kerygma) across he may lay claim to dignity.  The silent person, whose message remains hidden and suppressed in the in-depth personality, cannot be considered dignified….(The dignified person) He is a social being, gregarious, communicative, emphasizing the artistic aspect in life and giving priority to form over content, to literary expression over eidos, to practical accomplishments over inner motivation.   He is blessed with the gift of rhetoric, with the faculty of communication, be it the beautiful word, the efficacious machine, the socially acceptable ethic-etiquette, or the hush of the solemn memorial assembly.  (pages 26-27).

 

           It is important to understand that Rabbi Soloveitchik does not disparage the human need for dignity and fame.  On the contrary, he portrays it in this essay as being sanctified by God in the blessing of “be fruitful and multiply and rule the earth”.  Human beings are made to accomplish great things and to build a dignified, human civilization.  This is a part of humanity’s destiny.  So what was the sin of the builders of the Tower?  What quality of this endeavor resulted in God’s punishment of stopping  its construction and the confusion of human languages, with each of the 70 families miraculously speaking a separate language as opposed to the common language they all shared before?

 

        Rabbi Soloveitchik makes clear that human greatness is a sanctioned belief in Judaism.  However, this greatness is qualified by an understanding that mankind’s exalted position as  master of the earth (“be fruitful and multiply ….) is a role carried out as a fulfillment of God’s will and within the parameters that the Creator has provided.  Rabbi Soloveitchik explains this masterful dimension of the human personality, which he calls “Adam the first”,  in the essay “Lonely Man of Faith”.  He states:

In doing all this, Adam the first is trying to carry out the mandate entrusted to him by his Maker who, at dawn of the sixth mysterious day of creation, addressed Himself to man and summoned him to “fill the earth and subdue it.”  It is God who decreed that the story of Adam the first be the great saga of freedom of man-slave who gradually transforms himself into man-master.  (page 19).

 

 

But the Tower of Babel was more than an attempt by mankind to  “make a name” for itself in the Torah-sanctioned  manner of achieving dignity and mastery.   The reason these people were determined to “make a name” is stated in the verse “… so that we will not be scatter abroad upon the whole face of the earth” (Bereisheit 5:4).  Rashi’s comments on this part of the verse, “Lest we be scattered”: “So that He (God) should not bring upon us any blow to scatter us abroad from here”.  The “making of a name” and the establishment of a sign of human mastery and achievement by the Tower was, in this case, an attempt to pre-empt what the post-diluvian community misperceived as God’s battle with them for greatness and dominance.   This is a common pagan myth which finds the gods battling with man for dominance and often has the gods viewing man as a rival that must be vanquished.  According to Rashi, mankind’s destruction in the Great Flood was also viewed by the Tower generation as God’s attempt to prevent man from achieving greatness and dignity.  Relevant to this idea is the Jewish tradition that after the flood, the bodies of people were significantly weakened, resulting in their new need for meat and a much-shortened lifespan.   Perhaps this weakening was also viewed by the people as God’s seeking to subjugate them for His own glory. 

 

When mankind’s civilization-building is rooted in a defiance of God’s creation of man as mortal and as an expression of man’a rejectionof his role as servant or God,  the great achievements take on a demonic nature.  The Pyramids of Egypt are perhaps the most dramatc example of man attempting to defy his mortality and to take on the quality of God’s eternal existence.  Man’s building of great structures and creating art and technology are sanctified when they carry out man’s role of bringing justice, mercy and beauty to the world.  God has provided man with the talents and desires to do this.  But when this drive is distorted to one of expressing human greatness for its own sake, a line has been crossed and  a destructive distortion has occurred in the human beings understanding of their role within creation.

 

Ayn Rand, the author and philosopher, famous for her novels “Atlas Shrugged” and  “The Fountainhead”, as well as her objectivist philosophy, formulated a unique atheistic  individualism which gloried in human accomplishment for its own sake.  For her, these accomplishments were the highest morality and the greatest good.  Although Ms. Rand, the ultimate individualist and libertarian,  would abhor the collectivistic aspect of the Tower of Babel, I believe its purpose of “making a name” for man qua man would be well-aligned with her  most cherished positions.  Ms. Rand famously expressed her philosophy through the characters in her popular novels.   Two  quotes from the novel “The Fountainhead” are cited below which, I believe, to be consistent with the perspective of Nimrod and the builders of the Tower of Babel.

The Fountainhead  Gail Wynand, speaking to Dominique Keating:

"You've never felt how small you were when looking at the ocean?"
He laughed. "Never. Nor looking at the planets. Nor at mountain peaks. Nor at the Grand Canyon. Why should I? When I look at the ocean, I feel the greatness of man. I think of man's magnificent capacity that created this ship to conquer all that senseless space. When I look at mountain peaks, I think of tunnels and dynamite. When I look at the planets, I think of airplanes."

The Fountainhead  Dominique Keating and Gail Wynand:

"I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York's skyline. Particularly when one can't see the details. Just the shapes. The shapes and the thought that made them. The sky over New York and the will of man, made visible. What other religion do we need? And then people tell me about pilgrimages to some dank pesthole in a jungle where they go to do homage to a crumbling

 

temple, to a leering stone monster with a pot belly, created by some leprous savage. Is it beauty and genius they want to see? Do they seek a sense of the sublime? Let them come to New York, stand on the shore of the Hudson, look and kneel. When I see the city from my window--no, I don't feel how small I am--but I feel that if a war came to threaten this, I would like to throw myself into space, over the city, and protect these buildings with my body."

This second quote with regards to the statement of “ I would like to throw myself into space, over the city, and protect these buildings with my body” brings to mind the midrash about the Tower of Babel brought down in the Pirkei Derabi Eliezer  where it is states:

The tower had seven steps from the east and seven from the west.  The bricks were hauled up from one side, the descent was on the other.  If a man fell down and died, no attention was paid to him, but if one brick fell down, they would sit and weep and say: Woe betide us, when will another one be hauled up in its place?  (Pirkei Derabi Eliezer, 24).

Below is a contemporary poem about the Tower of Babel that I think is relevant and beautiful.


Journey 

I stood with you at the Tower of Babel  looking towards the sky 
We stood, proud of the rubbles  that now stood symmetrical  towards heavens 
The blasphemed God thundered in Babylon, once more we stood together 
Loving the decadence of living drinking waters of ether 
Shrieking against God  until He answered by the Ziggurats, towards the sky 
They seemed to claw  holding your hands once more 
No lesson learned from before, God destroyed some more 
You spoke in Unknown Tongues                                                                                                                                                                Voices of Heaven Shrouded in dark Mystery 
The Babble spelled dark incantations but God was not pleased 
They laid your dreams in ruin once more 
Building pyramids with Stepping Stones ancient chants and wails 
tried to stop you 
Confusion reigned and Angels  visited the Earth again 
The Construction of stairs to the heavenly constellation ends always in Tragedy 
There are Temples dedicated to them. 
As for you great builder challenger of God 
I abide with you until you stay still and abide by nature's hierarchy

ldryad
(Grace)

Guardian of Shadows

Deepundergroundpoetry.com

 

 

 

 

Torah, Creativity and the Arts

-A Parsha Perspective-

NOAH

 

A publication of observant Artists community ciRcle, Inc.

(www.observantartists.coM)

                            

BY RABBI rICHARD bORAh

Please email comments to obersvantartists@gmail.com

 

            A bold, creative act in the parsha of Noah is the building of the Tower of Babel by Nimrod and the 70 families who repopulated the world after the Great Flood.  This construction was a worldwide effort representing the entire post-flood human population.  The Torah states:  “Let us build us a city and a tower, whose top reaches to heaven; And let us make us a name.” (Bereisheit 11, 4)  This event continues to be relevant to the enduring human need to achieve renown and immortality.  This was of particular concern to the generations after the Flood, having fresh memory of the deluge and the world’s destruction.  All human beings past and present struggle with the conflict between an inner sense of immortality and the realty of a finite existence.   Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik  (“The Rav”) describes in his essay “The Lonely Man of Faith” how great human accomplishments address this basic need for dignity and fame and how it is addressed by man’s technological and artistic accomplisments.  He states:

 

Dignity is linked with fame.  There is no dignity in anonymity.  If one succeeds in putting his message (kerygma) across he may lay claim to dignity.  The silent person, whose message remains hidden and suppressed in the in-depth personality, cannot be considered dignified….(The dignified person) He is a social being, gregarious, communicative, emphasizing the artistic aspect in life and giving priority to form over content, to literary expression over eidos, to practical accomplishments over inner motivation.   He is blessed with the gift of rhetoric, with the faculty of communication, be it the beautiful word, the efficacious machine, the socially acceptable ethic-etiquette, or the hush of the solemn memorial assembly.  (pages 26-27).

 

           It is important to understand that Rabbi Soloveitchik does not disparage the human need for dignity and fame.  On the contrary, he portrays it in this essay as being sanctified by God in the blessing of “be fruitful and multiply and rule the earth”.  Human beings are made to accomplish great things and to build a dignified, human civilization.  This is a part of humanity’s destiny.  So what was the sin of the builders of the Tower?  What quality of this endeavor resulted in God’s punishment of stopping  its construction and the confusion of human languages, with each of the 70 families miraculously speaking a separate language as opposed to the common language they all shared before?

 

        Rabbi Soloveitchik makes clear that human greatness is a sanctioned belief in Judaism.  However, this greatness is qualified by an understanding that mankind’s exalted position as  master of the earth (“be fruitful and multiply ….) is a role carried out as a fulfillment of God’s will and within the parameters that the Creator has provided.  Rabbi Soloveitchik explains this masterful dimension of the human personality, which he calls “Adam the first”,  in the essay “Lonely Man of Faith”.  He states:

In doing all this, Adam the first is trying to carry out the mandate entrusted to him by his Maker who, at dawn of the sixth mysterious day of creation, addressed Himself to man and summoned him to “fill the earth and subdue it.”  It is God who decreed that the story of Adam the first be the great saga of freedom of man-slave who gradually transforms himself into man-master.  (page 19).

 

 

But the Tower of Babel was more than an attempt by mankind to  “make a name” for itself in the Torah-sanctioned  manner of achieving dignity and mastery.   The reason these people were determined to “make a name” is stated in the verse “… so that we will not be scatter abroad upon the whole face of the earth” (Bereisheit 5:4).  Rashi’s comments on this part of the verse, “Lest we be scattered”: “So that He (God) should not bring upon us any blow to scatter us abroad from here”.  The “making of a name” and the establishment of a sign of human mastery and achievement by the Tower was, in this case, an attempt to pre-empt what the post-diluvian community misperceived as God’s battle with them for greatness and dominance.   This is a common pagan myth which finds the gods battling with man for dominance and often has the gods viewing man as a rival that must be vanquished.  According to Rashi, mankind’s destruction in the Great Flood was also viewed by the Tower generation as God’s attempt to prevent man from achieving greatness and dignity.  Relevant to this idea is the Jewish tradition that after the flood, the bodies of people were significantly weakened, resulting in their new need for meat and a much-shortened lifespan.   Perhaps this weakening was also viewed by the people as God’s seeking to subjugate them for His own glory. 

 

When mankind’s civilization-building is rooted in a defiance of God’s creation of man as mortal and as an expression of man’a rejectionof his role as servant or God,  the great achievements take on a demonic nature.  The Pyramids of Egypt are perhaps the most dramatc example of man attempting to defy his mortality and to take on the quality of God’s eternal existence.  Man’s building of great structures and creating art and technology are sanctified when they carry out man’s role of bringing justice, mercy and beauty to the world.  God has provided man with the talents and desires to do this.  But when this drive is distorted to one of expressing human greatness for its own sake, a line has been crossed and  a destructive distortion has occurred in the human beings understanding of their role within creation.

 

Ayn Rand, the author and philosopher, famous for her novels “Atlas Shrugged” and  “The Fountainhead”, as well as her objectivist philosophy, formulated a unique atheistic  individualism which gloried in human accomplishment for its own sake.  For her, these accomplishments were the highest morality and the greatest good.  Although Ms. Rand, the ultimate individualist and libertarian,  would abhor the collectivistic aspect of the Tower of Babel, I believe its purpose of “making a name” for man qua man would be well-aligned with her  most cherished positions.  Ms. Rand famously expressed her philosophy through the characters in her popular novels.   Two  quotes from the novel “The Fountainhead” are cited below which, I believe, to be consistent with the perspective of Nimrod and the builders of the Tower of Babel.

The Fountainhead  Gail Wynand, speaking to Dominique Keating:

"You've never felt how small you were when looking at the ocean?"
He laughed. "Never. Nor looking at the planets. Nor at mountain peaks. Nor at the Grand Canyon. Why should I? When I look at the ocean, I feel the greatness of man. I think of man's magnificent capacity that created this ship to conquer all that senseless space. When I look at mountain peaks, I think of tunnels and dynamite. When I look at the planets, I think of airplanes."

The Fountainhead  Dominique Keating and Gail Wynand:

"I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York's skyline. Particularly when one can't see the details. Just the shapes. The shapes and the thought that made them. The sky over New York and the will of man, made visible. What other religion do we need? And then people tell me about pilgrimages to some dank pesthole in a jungle where they go to do homage to a crumbling

 

temple, to a leering stone monster with a pot belly, created by some leprous savage. Is it beauty and genius they want to see? Do they seek a sense of the sublime? Let them come to New York, stand on the shore of the Hudson, look and kneel. When I see the city from my window--no, I don't feel how small I am--but I feel that if a war came to threaten this, I would like to throw myself into space, over the city, and protect these buildings with my body."

This second quote with regards to the statement of “ I would like to throw myself into space, over the city, and protect these buildings with my body” brings to mind the midrash about the Tower of Babel brought down in the Pirkei Derabi Eliezer  where it is states:

The tower had seven steps from the east and seven from the west.  The bricks were hauled up from one side, the descent was on the other.  If a man fell down and died, no attention was paid to him, but if one brick fell down, they would sit and weep and say: Woe betide us, when will another one be hauled up in its place?  (Pirkei Derabi Eliezer, 24).

Below is a contemporary poem about the Tower of Babel that I think is relevant and beautiful.


Journey 

I stood with you at the Tower of Babel  looking towards the sky 
We stood, proud of the rubbles  that now stood symmetrical  towards heavens 
The blasphemed God thundered in Babylon, once more we stood together 
Loving the decadence of living drinking waters of ether 
Shrieking against God  until He answered by the Ziggurats, towards the sky 
They seemed to claw  holding your hands once more 
No lesson learned from before, God destroyed some more 
You spoke in Unknown Tongues                                                                                                                                                                Voices of Heaven Shrouded in dark Mystery 
The Babble spelled dark incantations but God was not pleased 
They laid your dreams in ruin once more 
Building pyramids with Stepping Stones ancient chants and wails 
tried to stop you 
Confusion reigned and Angels  visited the Earth again 
The Construction of stairs to the heavenly constellation ends always in Tragedy 
There are Temples dedicated to them. 
As for you great builder challenger of God 
I abide with you until you stay still and abide by nature's hierarchy

ldryad
(Grace)

Guardian of Shadows

Deepundergroundpoetry.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Torah, Creativity and the Arts

-A Parsha Perspective-

NOAH

 

A publication of observant Artists community ciRcle, Inc.

(www.observantartists.coM)

                            

BY RABBI rICHARD bORAh

Please email comments to obersvantartists@gmail.com

 

            A bold, creative act in the parsha of Noah is the building of the Tower of Babel by Nimrod and the 70 families who repopulated the world after the Great Flood.  This construction was a worldwide effort representing the entire post-flood human population.  The Torah states:  “Let us build us a city and a tower, whose top reaches to heaven; And let us make us a name.” (Bereisheit 11, 4)  This event continues to be relevant to the enduring human need to achieve renown and immortality.  This was of particular concern to the generations after the Flood, having fresh memory of the deluge and the world’s destruction.  All human beings past and present struggle with the conflict between an inner sense of immortality and the realty of a finite existence.   Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik  (“The Rav”) describes in his essay “The Lonely Man of Faith” how great human accomplishments address this basic need for dignity and fame and how it is addressed by man’s technological and artistic accomplisments.  He states:

 

Dignity is linked with fame.  There is no dignity in anonymity.  If one succeeds in putting his message (kerygma) across he may lay claim to dignity.  The silent person, whose message remains hidden and suppressed in the in-depth personality, cannot be considered dignified….(The dignified person) He is a social being, gregarious, communicative, emphasizing the artistic aspect in life and giving priority to form over content, to literary expression over eidos, to practical accomplishments over inner motivation.   He is blessed with the gift of rhetoric, with the faculty of communication, be it the beautiful word, the efficacious machine, the socially acceptable ethic-etiquette, or the hush of the solemn memorial assembly.  (pages 26-27).

 

           It is important to understand that Rabbi Soloveitchik does not disparage the human need for dignity and fame.  On the contrary, he portrays it in this essay as being sanctified by God in the blessing of “be fruitful and multiply and rule the earth”.  Human beings are made to accomplish great things and to build a dignified, human civilization.  This is a part of humanity’s destiny.  So what was the sin of the builders of the Tower?  What quality of this endeavor resulted in God’s punishment of stopping  its construction and the confusion of human languages, with each of the 70 families miraculously speaking a separate language as opposed to the common language they all shared before?

 

        Rabbi Soloveitchik makes clear that human greatness is a sanctioned belief in Judaism.  However, this greatness is qualified by an understanding that mankind’s exalted position as  master of the earth (“be fruitful and multiply ….) is a role carried out as a fulfillment of God’s will and within the parameters that the Creator has provided.  Rabbi Soloveitchik explains this masterful dimension of the human personality, which he calls “Adam the first”,  in the essay “Lonely Man of Faith”.  He states:

In doing all this, Adam the first is trying to carry out the mandate entrusted to him by his Maker who, at dawn of the sixth mysterious day of creation, addressed Himself to man and summoned him to “fill the earth and subdue it.”  It is God who decreed that the story of Adam the first be the great saga of freedom of man-slave who gradually transforms himself into man-master.  (page 19).

 

 

But the Tower of Babel was more than an attempt by mankind to  “make a name” for itself in the Torah-sanctioned  manner of achieving dignity and mastery.   The reason these people were determined to “make a name” is stated in the verse “… so that we will not be scatter abroad upon the whole face of the earth” (Bereisheit 5:4).  Rashi’s comments on this part of the verse, “Lest we be scattered”: “So that He (God) should not bring upon us any blow to scatter us abroad from here”.  The “making of a name” and the establishment of a sign of human mastery and achievement by the Tower was, in this case, an attempt to pre-empt what the post-diluvian community misperceived as God’s battle with them for greatness and dominance.   This is a common pagan myth which finds the gods battling with man for dominance and often has the gods viewing man as a rival that must be vanquished.  According to Rashi, mankind’s destruction in the Great Flood was also viewed by the Tower generation as God’s attempt to prevent man from achieving greatness and dignity.  Relevant to this idea is the Jewish tradition that after the flood, the bodies of people were significantly weakened, resulting in their new need for meat and a much-shortened lifespan.   Perhaps this weakening was also viewed by the people as God’s seeking to subjugate them for His own glory. 

 

When mankind’s civilization-building is rooted in a defiance of God’s creation of man as mortal and as an expression of man’a rejectionof his role as servant or God,  the great achievements take on a demonic nature.  The Pyramids of Egypt are perhaps the most dramatc example of man attempting to defy his mortality and to take on the quality of God’s eternal existence.  Man’s building of great structures and creating art and technology are sanctified when they carry out man’s role of bringing justice, mercy and beauty to the world.  God has provided man with the talents and desires to do this.  But when this drive is distorted to one of expressing human greatness for its own sake, a line has been crossed and  a destructive distortion has occurred in the human beings understanding of their role within creation.

 

Ayn Rand, the author and philosopher, famous for her novels “Atlas Shrugged” and  “The Fountainhead”, as well as her objectivist philosophy, formulated a unique atheistic  individualism which gloried in human accomplishment for its own sake.  For her, these accomplishments were the highest morality and the greatest good.  Although Ms. Rand, the ultimate individualist and libertarian,  would abhor the collectivistic aspect of the Tower of Babel, I believe its purpose of “making a name” for man qua man would be well-aligned with her  most cherished positions.  Ms. Rand famously expressed her philosophy through the characters in her popular novels.   Two  quotes from the novel “The Fountainhead” are cited below which, I believe, to be consistent with the perspective of Nimrod and the builders of the Tower of Babel.

The Fountainhead  Gail Wynand, speaking to Dominique Keating:

"You've never felt how small you were when looking at the ocean?"
He laughed. "Never. Nor looking at the planets. Nor at mountain peaks. Nor at the Grand Canyon. Why should I? When I look at the ocean, I feel the greatness of man. I think of man's magnificent capacity that created this ship to conquer all that senseless space. When I look at mountain peaks, I think of tunnels and dynamite. When I look at the planets, I think of airplanes."

The Fountainhead  Dominique Keating and Gail Wynand:

"I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York's skyline. Particularly when one can't see the details. Just the shapes. The shapes and the thought that made them. The sky over New York and the will of man, made visible. What other religion do we need? And then people tell me about pilgrimages to some dank pesthole in a jungle where they go to do homage to a crumbling

 

temple, to a leering stone monster with a pot belly, created by some leprous savage. Is it beauty and genius they want to see? Do they seek a sense of the sublime? Let them come to New York, stand on the shore of the Hudson, look and kneel. When I see the city from my window--no, I don't feel how small I am--but I feel that if a war came to threaten this, I would like to throw myself into space, over the city, and protect these buildings with my body."

This second quote with regards to the statement of “ I would like to throw myself into space, over the city, and protect these buildings with my body” brings to mind the midrash about the Tower of Babel brought down in the Pirkei Derabi Eliezer  where it is states:

The tower had seven steps from the east and seven from the west.  The bricks were hauled up from one side, the descent was on the other.  If a man fell down and died, no attention was paid to him, but if one brick fell down, they would sit and weep and say: Woe betide us, when will another one be hauled up in its place?  (Pirkei Derabi Eliezer, 24).

Below is a contemporary poem about the Tower of Babel that I think is relevant and beautiful.


Journey 

I stood with you at the Tower of Babel  looking towards the sky 
We stood, proud of the rubbles  that now stood symmetrical  towards heavens 
The blasphemed God thundered in Babylon, once more we stood together 
Loving the decadence of living drinking waters of ether 
Shrieking against God  until He answered by the Ziggurats, towards the sky 
They seemed to claw  holding your hands once more 
No lesson learned from before, God destroyed some more 
You spoke in Unknown Tongues                                                                                                                                       Voices of Heaven Shrouded in dark Mystery 
The Babble spelled dark incantations but God was not pleased 
They laid your dreams in ruin once more 
Building pyramids with Stepping Stones ancient chants and wails 
tried to stop you 
Confusion reigned and Angels  visited the Earth again 
The Construction of stairs to the heavenly constellation ends always in Tragedy 
There are Temples dedicated to them. 
As for you great builder challenger of God 
I abide with you until you stay still and abide by nature's hierarchy

ldryad
(Grace)

Guardian of Shadows

Deepundergroundpoetry.com

 

 

Parsha Noah-

"Creativity,Sanctified and Demonic"  by Richard Borah 

 A bold, creative act in the parsha of Noah is the building of the Tower of Babel by Nimrod and the 70 families who repopulated the world after the Great Flood.  This construction was a worldwide effort representing the entire post-flood human population.  The Torah states:  “Let us build us a city and a tower, whose top reaches to heaven; And let us make us a name.” (Bereisheit 11, 4)  This event continues to be relevant to the enduring human need to achieve renown and immortality.  This was of particular concern to the generations after the Flood, having fresh memory of the deluge and the world’s destruction.  All human beings past and present struggle with the conflict between an inner sense of immortality and the realty of a finite existence.   Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik  (“The Rav”) describes in his essay “The Lonely Man of Faith” how great human accomplishments address this basic need for dignity and fame and how it is addressed by man’s technological and artistic accomplisments.  He states:

Dignity is linked with fame.  There is no dignity in anonymity.  If one succeeds in putting his message (kerygma) across he may lay claim to dignity.  The silent person, whose message remains hidden and suppressed in the in-depth personality, cannot be considered dignified….(The dignified person) He is a social being, gregarious, communicative, emphasizing the artistic aspect in life and giving priority to form over content, to literary expression over eidos, to practical accomplishments over inner motivation.   He is blessed with the gift of rhetoric, with the faculty of communication, be it the beautiful word, the efficacious machine, the socially acceptable ethic-etiquette, or the hush of the solemn memorial assembly.  (pages 26-27).

It is important to understand that Rabbi Soloveitchik does not disparage the human need for dignity and fame.  On the contrary, he portrays it in this essay as being sanctified by God in the blessing of “be fruitful and multiply and rule the earth”.  Human beings are made to accomplish great things and to build a dignified, human civilization.  This is a part of humanity’s destiny.  So what was the sin of the builders of the Tower?  What quality of this endeavor resulted in God’s punishment of stopping  its construction and the confusion of human languages, with each of the 70 families miraculously speaking a separate language as opposed to the common language they all shared before?

 Rabbi Soloveitchik makes clear that human greatness is a sanctioned belief in Judaism.  However, this greatness is qualified by an understanding that mankind’s exalted position as  master of the earth (“be fruitful and multiply ….) is a role carried out as a fulfillment of God’s will and within the parameters that the Creator has provided.  Rabbi Soloveitchik explains this masterful dimension of the human personality, which he calls “Adam the first”,  in the essay “Lonely Man of Faith”.  He state

In doing all this, Adam the first is trying to carry out the mandate entrusted to him by his Maker who, at dawn of the sixth mysterious day of creation, addressed Himself to man and summoned him to “fill the earth and subdue it.”  It is God who decreed that the story of Adam the first be the great saga of freedom of man-slave who gradually transforms himself into man-master.  (page 19).

But the Tower of Babel was more than an attempt by mankind to  “make a name” for itself in the Torah-sanctioned  manner of achieving dignity and mastery.   The reason these people were determined to “make a name” is stated in the verse “… so that we will not be scatter abroad upon the whole face of the earth” (Bereisheit 5:4).  Rashi’s comments on this part of the verse, “Lest we be scattered”: “So that He (God) should not bring upon us any blow to scatter us abroad from here”.  The “making of a name” and the establishment of a sign of human mastery and achievement by the Tower was, in this case, an attempt to pre-empt what the post-diluvian community misperceived as God’s battle with them for greatness and dominance.   This is a common pagan myth which finds the gods battling with man for dominance and often has the gods viewing man as a rival that must be vanquished.  According to Rashi, mankind’s destruction in the Great Flood was also viewed by the Tower generation as God’s attempt to prevent man from achieving greatness and dignity.  Relevant to this idea is the Jewish tradition that after the flood, the bodies of people were significantly weakened, resulting in their new need for meat and a much-shortened lifespan.   Perhaps this weakening was also viewed by the people as God’s seeking to subjugate them for His own glory. 

 

When mankind’s civilization-building is rooted in a defiance of God’s creation of man as mortal and as an expression of man’a rejectionof his role as servant or God,  the great achievements take on a demonic nature.  The Pyramids of Egypt are perhaps the most dramatc example of man attempting to defy his mortality and to take on the quality of God’s eternal existence.  Man’s building of great structures and creating art and technology are sanctified when they carry out man’s role of bringing justice, mercy and beauty to the world.  God has provided man with the talents and desires to do this.  But when this drive is distorted to one of expressing human greatness for its own sake, a line has been crossed and  a destructive distortion has occurred in the human beings understanding of their role within creation.

Ayn Rand, the author and philosopher, famous for her novels “Atlas Shrugged” and  “The Fountainhead”, as well as her objectivist philosophy, formulated a unique atheistic  individualism which gloried in human accomplishment for its own sake.  For her, these accomplishments were the highest morality and the greatest good.  Although Ms. Rand, the ultimate individualist and libertarian,  would abhor the collectivistic aspect of the Tower of Babel, I believe its purpose of “making a name” for man qua man would be well-aligned with her  most cherished positions.  Ms. Rand famously expressed her philosophy through the characters in her popular novels.   Two  quotes from the novel “The Fountainhead” are cited below which, I believe, to be consistent with the perspective of Nimrod and the builders of the Tower of Babel.

The Fountainhead  Gail Wynand, speaking to Dominique Keating:

"You've never felt how small you were when looking at the ocean?"
He laughed. "Never. Nor looking at the planets. Nor at mountain peaks. Nor at the Grand Canyon. Why should I? When I look at the ocean, I feel the greatness of man. I think of man's magnificent capacity that created this ship to conquer all that senseless space. When I look at mountain peaks, I think of tunnels and dynamite. When I look at the planets, I think of airplanes."

The Fountainhead  Dominique Keating and Gail Wynand:

"I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York's skyline. Particularly when one can't see the details. Just the shapes. The shapes and the thought that made them. The sky over New York and the will of man, made visible. What other religion do we need? And then people tell me about pilgrimages to some dank pesthole in a jungle where they go to do homage to a crumbling

 

temple, to a leering stone monster with a pot belly, created by some leprous savage. Is it beauty and genius they want to see? Do they seek a sense of the sublime? Let them come to New York, stand on the shore of the Hudson, look and kneel. When I see the city from my window--no, I don't feel how small I am--but I feel that if a war came to threaten this, I would like to throw myself into space, over the city, and protect these buildings with my body."

This second quote with regards to the statement of “ I would like to throw myself into space, over the city, and protect these buildings with my body” brings to mind the midrash about the Tower of Babel brought down in the Pirkei Derabi Eliezer  where it is states:

The tower had seven steps from the east and seven from the west.  The bricks were hauled up from one side, the descent was on the other.  If a man fell down and died, no attention was paid to him, but if one brick fell down, they would sit and weep and say: Woe betide us, when will another one be hauled up in its place?  (Pirkei Derabi Eliezer, 24).

Below is a contemporary poem about the Tower of Babel that I think is relevant and beautiful.


Journey 

I stood with you at the Tower of Babel  looking towards the sky 
We stood, proud of the rubbles  that now stood symmetrical  towards heavens 
The blasphemed God thundered in Babylon, once more we stood together 
Loving the decadence of living drinking waters of ether 
Shrieking against God  until He answered by the Ziggurats, towards the sky 
They seemed to claw  holding your hands once more 
No lesson learned from before, God destroyed some more 
You spoke in Unknown Tongues                                                                                                                                                                Voices of Heaven Shrouded in dark Mystery 
The Babble spelled dark incantations but God was not pleased 
They laid your dreams in ruin once more 
Building pyramids with Stepping Stones ancient chants and wails 
tried to stop you 
Confusion reigned and Angels  visited the Earth again 
The Construction of stairs to the heavenly constellation ends always in Tragedy 
There are Temples dedicated to them. 
As for you great builder challenger of God 
I abide with you until you stay still and abide by nature's hierarchy

ldryad
(Grace)

Guardian of Shadows

Deepundergroundpoetry.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Bereisheit

 by Richard Borah

Please email comments to obersvantartists@gmail.com

 

What precisely is the role of art in the life of the individual and the community?  Unlike science and technology, which are almost universally acknowledged as important for improving the quality of human life, the benefits of the arts are less clear.  Some place it at a very high level of importance, dedicating time and expense to its pursuit.  At the other end of the spectrum many find to be of questionable value and its benefits minimal.  This lack of clarity regarding the place of art in our lives is particularly acute in the observant Jewish community.  Traditional Judaism’s focus on Torah study, as well the Jewish law’s prohibition of creating certain images has made Jewish art somewhat suspect in the traditional Jewish community and the place of Jewish artists quite marginal.  Even for those traditional Jews with a more liberal perspective, the arts are considered of minimal value beyond their more mundane roles in building beautification, musical entertainment and their enhancement of holiday festivities.

What I would like to explore through the Torah portions of this year is the place of art in the life of the Jewish individual and within a society that places the Torah at its center.   In this pursuit I will draw upon many traditional and contemporary Jewish and general sources, as well the artists themselves, with a view towards clarifying, what I believe to be an important role that artists must play in a vibrant and meaningful Jewish life.   Artists are defined here in a broad sense including those that work in physical mediums like paint, clay and stone, as well as those artists who utilize words, music or dance to express themselves.

Where to begin?  At the core of art is the pursuit of beauty.  Even though modern artistic expression may sometimes shock us with grotesque images or atonal harmonies, these too are striving for some form of beauty, though one that is more difficult to realize or that require orientation before it can be appreciated.  Artists strive to create beauty and most of us who appreciate the arts, I believe, are appreciating the beauty that they express.  Beauty, like wisdom, is a uniquely human phenomenon.  It is primarily of the mind and not a simple pleasure that can be experienced by the beast or the infant. 

One of the most insightful Jewish contemporary scholars who has commented on the place of creativity and aesthetics within a Torah-centered world view Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (also known as “the Rav”).  In his essay Halakhic Man, he clarifies the central role creativity plays in religious life and that it is a dimension in the study of the law that is at the heart of holiness.  He states:

Creation means the realization of the ideal of holiness. The nothingness and naught, the privation and the void are rooted in the realm of the profane; the harmonious existence, the perfected being are grounded in the realm of the holy. If a man wishes to attain the rank of holiness, he must become a creator of worlds. If a man never creates, never brings into being anything new, anything original, then he cannot be holy unto his God. That passive type who is derelict in fulfilling his task of creation cannot become holy. Creation is the lowering of transcendence into the midst of our turbid, coarse, material world; and this lowering can take place only through the implementation of the ideal Halakhah in the core of reality (the realization of the Halakhah=contraction=holiness=creation. (Halakhic Man pages 108-109)     

 The Rav discusses the study and fulfillment of Jewish law (the “halkhah”) as an artistic endeavor by which one molds and refines the soul, taking chaos and dross and shaping it into something beautiful and holy.  Torah is an art form with man’s soul as the medium.  Man’s task is to create himself. The Rav states:

But man himself symbolizes, on the one hand, the most perfect and complete type of existence, the image of God, and, on the other hand, the most terrible chaos and void to reign over creation. The contradiction that one finds in the macrocosm between ontic beauty and perfection and monstrous "nothingness" also appears in the microcosm- in man-for the latter incorporates within himself the most perfect creation and the most unimaginable chaos and void, light and darkness, the abyss and the law, a coarse, turbid being and a clear, lucid existence, the beast and the image of God. All human thought has grappled with this strange dualism that is so pronounced in man and has sought to overcome it....Judaism declares that man stands at the crossroads and wonders about the path he shall take. Before him there is an awesome alternative- the image of God or the beast of prey, the crown of creation or the bogey of existence, the noblest of creatures or a degenerate creature, the image of the man of God or the profile of Nietzsche's "superman"- and it is up to man to decide and choose.....The most fundamental principle of all is that man must create himself. It is this idea that Judaism introduced into the world. (Halakhik Man, pages 108-109) 

Creativity, I would like to suggest is the true nexus between Torah scholarship and the art.  Both are essentially creative endeavors that seek to bring beauty into the world and to enlighten the human soul.  Both are potent forms of self-creation.  But similar to the warnings regarding Torah, that “the wise benefit from it and the evil will be destroyed by it” (Pirkey Avot), the aesthetic pursuits that are focused on the creation and appreciation of beauty are also powerful in their ability to enlighten or destroy.  Rabbi Soloveitchik discusses what he terms “the aesthetic personality” in his book “The Worship of the Heart”.  He states that this personality type is more than simply a sensualist, but someone who sees life’s meaning and purpose in the immediate tangible experience of beauty as opposed to the intellectual and moral understanding that derives from study and experience.  The Rav explains:

Beauty is apprehended, not comprehended; the harmonious form is perceived, not conceived.  In the aesthetic world, unlike the intellectual world, there are no abstractions.  Everything is tangible and approachable to man in aesthetic terms.  (p. 42)

In his discussion of this aesthetic personality type, the Rav contrast it with the cognitive, abstract-based personality and moral/ethical personality.  Rabbi Soloveitchik often utilizes this method of creating pure

personality types in order to clarify ideas about the human condition, although he qualifies them as being a tool for analysis, explaining that, in reality, each individual consists of an amalgam of these pure personality constructs.  Although I think we will find that the Rav is strongly supportive of the important role of the arts and the artist in Jewish society, he makes clear that the “unredeemed” aesthetic pursuit is a destructive force.  He explains that there is a narcissistic, self-love that dwells at the core of the aesthete and when ungoverned by other dimensions of the personality, this can lead to an irrational and immoral life.

There is something of the narcissist in every aesthete, not excluding the genius.  He is selfish, egocentric, many a time vain and capricious.  Form exhausts every creative fiber in his personality; the content is of

little significance.  The world is everything-the meaning is not relevant.  The harmony of perception fascinates the aesthete, the synthesis of thought or action does not intrigue him.  He works to fill the world; he does not intend to understand or to redeem it.  (p. 43)

But in this particular conflict the thesis (cognitive/ethical personality) and antithesis (aesthetic personality) can achieve a synthesis by which the aesthetic is redeemed through its being subjugated to the cognitive and ethical.  The aesthetic pursuit of beauty and pleasant experience cannot be redeemed as long as it exists

as a good in itself.  The Rav holds that it must be reborn as another dimension of that which is true and good.  The Rav explains the nature of this transformation:

What is required is the awakening of the skeptic, the rise of a critique of the aesthetic judgment and beauty-appreciation.  Though the emergence of doubt-the thought that everything experienced as beautiful is perhaps not beautiful at all-the catharsis of beauty is made possible.  When the aesthete begins to wonder whether everything which is apprehended as beauty and as pleasant expresses indeed genuine beauty, when he thinks that the aesthetic act can be critically examined and its worth objectively ascertained, in a manner similar to our critical attitude toward the cognitive and ethical gestures, then beauty is redeemed.  (page 56)

Once redeemed by its acceptance of the Transcendent Being (God),  the aesthetic experience not only loses their demonic quality, but becomes a uniquely powerful and sanctioned manner of exalting God, as man understands that God is not only the source of all knowledge but  that “absolute beauty rests in God” (page 60).  The Rav states:

Thus beauty has been linked up with transcendental and absolute Being and freed from the contingency of a volatile, passing and conditional world arrangement.  God sanctions not only the true and the good but also the beautiful.  It is delightful and fair because it reflects eternal glory and majesty.  In beautiful things, the transcendental hint (to something beyond) is inherent.  Beauty is not hemmed in on all sides by the boundaries of finitude (page 60).

The observant artist and scholar both carry out their creative destinies within a bounded landscape.  The scholar who seeks creative insights into the understanding of the Torah, or the scientist who applies his or her mind to understanding nature, are not creating new realities from their own imagination.  Man’s role is not to create “yaysh mayayim” (something from nothing).  He works creatively within the parameters of the Torah law or the laws of nature to delve into these with his creative mind. The artist, the Rav holds, must also avoid the demonic, which results from seeking to operate outside of sanctioned areas or from the development of a delusional self-worship of the production of his or her own creativity.  

We will explore in some depth, Judaism’s placing the creative person’s acceptance of a Transcendent truth as essential to the redemption any creative endeavor, whether scholarly or artistic, in transforming it from the demonic to the sanctioned.  To create in the service of God is man acting in his most exalted role.  To create in the place of God is the source of evil. 

Rashi’s explanation of the serpent’s enticement of Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil comes to mind with regards to the demonic dimension of the creative act: 

Chapter 3: Verse 5

“For God knows that on the day that you eat thereof, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like angels, knowing good and evil."

  


For God knows: Every craftsman hates his fellow craftsmen. He [God] ate of the tree and created the world (Gen. Rabbah 19:4).

 :

and you will be like angels: Creators of worlds. — [from Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer , ch. 13]

 :


 

 

Rabbi Avraham Kook was the first Rabbi of Palestine and perhaps the central figure in Modern Israeli religious Zionism. In his poetic, philosophical work “The Lights of Holiness” he expresses the concept of transcendence and its impact on the soul.    He writes:

Lights of Holiness (excerpt)  by Rav Avraham Kook

Waves from the higher realms act on our souls ceaselessly.

Our spirit is stirred by the sounds released by the violin of our soul,

As it listens to the echo of the sound emanating from the divine realm.

 

Rai Yehuda HaLevi, a poet and philosopher, best known  perhaps for his work “The Kuzari” was one of the few who is universally acknowledged for his great achievement as both a Jewish scholar and a Jewish artist (poet).  His most famous  philosophical work is The Kuzari, comprised of 5 essays written between 1120 and 1140. The Kuzari tells how the king of the Khazars decided to adopt Judaism after consulting with apologists for the Christian, Islamic, and Judaic religions. According to Rabbi Eliyahu (the "Gaon of Vilna"), The Kuzari is "holy and pure, and the fundamentals of Israel's faith and the Torah are contained within." He is also acknowledged as a great Jewish liturgical poet and his works are part of Jewish service.

 

Lord, Where Shall I Find You? by Yehudah Halevi  (English version by T. Carmi)

Lord, where shall I find You? Your place is lofty and secret. And where  shall I not find You? The whole earth is full of Your glory! You are found in man's innermost heart, yet You fixed earth's boundaries.
You are a strong tower for those who are near, and the trust of those who are far. You are enthroned on the cherubim, yet You dwell in the heights of heaven.
You are praised by Your hosts, but even their praise is not worthy of You. The sphere of heaven cannot
contain You; how much less the chambers of the Temple!
Even when You rise above Your hosts on a throne, high and exalted, You are nearer to them than their own bodies and souls. Their mouths attest that they have no Maker except You. Who shall
not fear You? All bear the yoke of Your kingdom. And who shall not call to You? It is You who give them their food. I have sought to come near You, I have called to You with all my heart; and when I went out towards You, I found You coming towards me. I look upon Your wondrous power and awe. Who can say that he has not seen You? The heavens and their legions proclaim Your dread -- without a sound.

 

Who is like Thee?  by Yehudah HaLevi ( English Translation by Nina Salaman)

Who is like Thee, revealing the deeps, Fearful in praises, doing wonders?
The Creator who discovereth all from nothing, Is revealed to the heart, but not to the eye;
Therefore ask not how nor where—For He filleth heaven and earth.
Remove lust from the midst of thee; Thou wilt find thy God within thy bosom,

Walking  gently in thine heart—He that bringeth low and that lifteth up. And see the way of the soul‘s secret; Search it out and refresh thee. He will make thee wise, and thou wilt find freedom,
For thou art a captive and the world is a prison. Make knowledge the envoy between thyself and Him;
Annul thy will and do His will; And know that wheresoever thou hidest thee, there is His eye,
And nothing is too hard for Him. He was the Living while there was yet no dust of the world;
And He is the Maker and He the Bearer; And man is counted as a fading flower—
Soon to fade, as fadeth a leaf.