Mel Alexenberg
Author of "Through a Bible Lens"

Celebrating Non-Art Day Weekly

The eighth portion of Exodus, Vayakhel/And He assembled, is read from the Torah scroll on Shabbat, March 5, 2016.

See how my wife Miriam and I link this Torah portion to our life together through photographs and tweets that reach out to the world through the blogosphere and twitterverse:


“Moses assembled the entire Israelite community and said to them: ‘These are the things that God commanded you to do.  Do all your creative work in six days, but the seventh day shall be kept holy as a Sabbath, a day of complete rest for God.’” (Exodus 35:1, 2)

baby 024

baby 020As we celebrated the birth of our grandson Avraham Matityahu, Miriam pointed out that Vayakhel will be his bar mitzvah portion in 13 years.

The baby was named for Mel’s father and uncle at the brit, the ancient ritual of initiation into the Jewish people.

Reading Vayakhel to an assembled Jewish community from a hand-written Torah scroll will be his rite of passage into manhood.

Unlike reading in Western culture, a private silent act of the eyes, reading in Jewish life is a public act of chanting with full voice.

We photographed our new grandson the day he was born, his sister Elianne welcoming him home on the 3rd day, and the brit on the 8th day.

After holding the baby, Elianne took candlesticks, put a doily on her head, covered her eyes and sang the blessing over Sabbath candles.

If it wasn’t weekday play but the real thing, lighting the candles would usher in a Non-Art Day in which we cease from all creative work.

While actively building the Tabernacle as a dwelling place for God, Moses said to the assembled community: “Stop on day 7!”

He taught that creating holy architecture in time takes precedence over building holy architecture in space.

The indestructible time architecture of Shabbat has kept the Jewish people alive throughout millennia of wandering in troubled exile.

On day 7, we honor the divine artist by leaving the natural world the way we got it.

The brit on day 8 symbolizes the human act of intervening in nature.  On day 8, we partner with God in continuing the process of creation.


Epilogue from my book Photograph God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life

Once a week tune out, turn off, and unplug. Put your cameras, computers, tablets, and smartphones to sleep. Just tune into God’s creations, enjoy family and friends, walk in the forest and fields, watch the sunrise and sunset, play with your children, and make love to your spouse.

Adopt the formula instituted millennia ago to free the Israelites from their enslavement in Egypt to free you from the being enslaved by the ubiquitous digital technologies that too often rule all our waking hours. The fourth of the Ten Commandments enjoins us to remember what it was to be a slave who never had a break from the repetitive sameness of everyday life (Deuteronomy 5:12-15).

Make every seventh day Shabbat, different from the other six days of the week. Make it an Ecology Day by leaving the world the way we got it. Make it a Non-art Day when we honor God’s creations rather than ours.

As the sun sets on Friday, my wife Miriam lights Shabbat candles, closes her eyes to her busy week, and blesses God as Is-Was-Will Be, sovereign of the universe, who bestows upon us a good and long life. On opening her eyes, she sees calming candle light ushering in a day qualitatively different from all the other digital days of the week. Until stars dot the sky Saturday night, she closes her eyes to digital dependence and keeps them opened to the simple miracles of being.

One day each week, stop doing, stop making, just enjoy being alive. Delight in all that happens around you. Don’t seek out things to frame and shoot. Let them be.

Shabbat is a divine gift to all humanity for all time. You are invited to enjoy Shabbat as a powerful way to free you from being enslaved by technological wizardry.

On the eighth day, you can return with renewed energies to being God’s partner in continuing process of creation. Enjoy being immersed in the amazing technological wonders of our era knowing that you are free on the next Shabbat to tune out, turn off, and unplug.

About the Author
Mel Alexenberg is an artist, educator, writer, and blogger working at the interface between art, technology, Jewish thought, and living the Zionist miracle in Israel. He is the author of "Through a Bible Lens: Biblical Insights for Smartphone Photography and Social Media," "The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness," and "Dialogic Art in a Digital World: Judaism and Contemporary Art" in Hebrew. He was professor at Columbia, Bar-Ilan and Ariel universities and research fellow at MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies. His artworks are in the collections of more than forty museums worldwide. He lives in Ra’anana, Israel, with his wife artist Miriam Benjamin.
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