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A lesson in creativity

At the beginning of our weekly Torah portion, Ki Tisa, God helpfully gives us a brief but extensive explanation of the nature of creativity. Describing the “first Jewish artist,” Bezalel, son of Uri, God, first of all, tells that Bezalel is “singled out by name.” Hence the ubiquitous “calling” has been overused and misused throughout human history but still summarizes the nature of the creative endeavor. You do what you do because you cannot avoid the voice of God within you.

God, of course, is the ultimate Creator, and we, the humans, can only imitate the Universe, so graciously bestowed on us. However, even in imitation, three qualities single out the true creative spirit, as laid down by God. These are the “divine spirit of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge” (Exodus 31:3).

Rashi here provides a rare modern insight, explaining that “wisdom” is what we learn from our teachers. “Understanding,” according to Rashi, is the ability to create something new using the said wisdom. The crucial point comes with the third part of the equation. Rashi says the “knowledge” is a Divine inspiration, which brings the holy spark in the creative process and moves it forward.

Ibn Ezra adds the practical dimension to this theoretical formula, paying attention to the “all manners of artisanship” in which Bezalel is skilled. Ibn Ezra, tongue-in-cheek, adds, “Many intelligent people do not possess even one practical skill.”

Hence I urge all the authors to learn how to change a lightbulb since the Divine spark might illuminate our inner world, but it does not substitute for electricity!

About the Author
Nelly Shulman is a journalist and writer currently based in Berlin. She is an author of four popular historical novels in the Russian language. She is working on the fifth novel in this series and on her first English-language novel, a historical thriller set during the Siege of Leningrad. She a Hawthornden Fellow and an alumna of the Nachum Goldmann Fellowship.
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