Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah was only 18 years old when he was approached by his colleagues to assume the mantle of Chief Rabbi. In order to help him with his age insecurity, a miracle occurred and overnight, his beard went white. As a result, we read in the Pesach Hagadah, “Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah says: Behold, I am like 70 years old.”
Upon receiving the request to appoint him to the position, he initially demurred. “Let me ask my wife,” he told them. Upon arriving home and discussing the matter with her, she concluded, “It’s probably not worth it. It won’t be long before they forgive Rabban Gamliel and reappoint him to the position.” Rabbi Elazar responded, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all . . .”
As one would expect, Mrs. Elazar ended up proving to be correct, and they restored Rabban Gamliel to the position. Nevertheless, in order to avoid demoting Rabbi Elazar, he continued to serve as the chief rabbi one week each month.
שְׁלֹשָׁה מְשִׁיבִין דַּעְתּוֹ שֶׁל אָדָם, אֵלּוּ הֵן: קוֹל, וּמַרְאֶה, וָרֵיחַ. שְׁלֹשָׁה מַרְחִיבִין דַּעְתּוֹ שֶׁל אָדָם, אֵלּוּ הֵן: דִּירָה נָאָה, וְאִשָּׁה נָאָה, וְכֵלִים נָאִים
Three things calm a person’s mind. They are: Voice, Vision, and Vapor. Three things broaden a person’s mind. They are: A beautiful abode, a beautiful wife, and beautiful utensils.
We all have good days and bad days. Sometimes our difficult days are based upon things that happen beyond our control. Other times, we simply can’t explain why we’re feeling down. According to kabbalistic thought, just like a flickering candle, the soul experiences an ebb and flow connection with its heavenly source. When it’s further away, every step of the day can feel like you’re carrying a pile of bricks. When it’s closer, every step of the day feels like you’re walking on air. For those tough days, the Gemara offers advice on how to revive the soul: listening, seeing, and smelling.
The Voice. Listening to music has incredible soul-reviving power. Chasidic thought teaches that music is more spiritual than words. Music expresses what words alone cannot. Music can touch a part of the soul that the words of the most experienced and gifted counsellor could never approach. Of course, there’s music and there’s music. Some contemporary music is not designed to settle the soul. So you need to choose carefully. Once you’ve established which genre of music calms your soul, the key is, not merely to listen to the music, but to experience it. To feel it. To connect with it. To give it your all. Ideally, we’re talking about traditional Jewish music, but the Gemara does not seem to specify the genre or source of the music. Listening to the music doesn’t mean turning on the radio in the background, it means taking a serious piece of music and allowing it to transport you to a elevated plane of existence. Allowing it to soothe your soul.
The Vision. Seeing the Creator’s beauty likewise has an incredibly calming power. Watching a beautiful sunrise or sunset, gazing at the stars, looking out upon the ocean, all have a soothing effect upon the soul. Why do these moving visions touch the soul? According to Kabbalah, all of G-d’s creations have a soul – a Divine life-force. Every star, every mountain, every drop of ocean water is sustained by the Divine energy infused within it, its particular soul. When you gaze at the Almighty’s creations, your soul connects with their soul, and the souls are uplifted together in a spiritual moment, that cannot be described in this-worldly terms.
The Vapor. Smelling is a pleasure of a bygone era. In centuries past, people would carry satchels of spices that would sniff periodically to soothe their minds and revive their souls. The closest experience we have today is the feeling of driving out to the countryside and breathing in the fresh air. Or taking in the powerful aroma of the sea. The source for the connection between smell and the soul is the original creation of humankind. When Hashem created Adam, “He blew into his nostrils the breath of life.” The soul entered the body via the nose and so the nose is acutely sensitive to matters of the soul.
Of course, settling your mind, body, and soul is not sufficient in life. After that, you need to let your psyche run wild with creativity. That’s what makes humankind greater than all other species. What’s the best way to ensure the highest productivity of your mind, body and soul? What do you require to achieve maximum broadening of your mind? The Gemara lists three factors: your abode, your spouse, and your utensils.
What is the meaning of a beautiful abode? To broaden your mind, first you need a good working (and thinking) environment. Every individual has their optimal workspace, the place where their creativity is maximized. Some companies have found that their employees are most productive in an open work environment, a space that allow maximal collaborative efforts. Other companies find that their employees work best when sitting in separate offices. Some individuals are most creative when sitting in a coffee shop. Others are most creative sitting by the side of a pool. Only you know your ideal creative space. But it’s important to find it if you want to maximize the broadening of your mind.
The next factor is having a beautiful spouse, not in the physical sense, but in their capacity as your ‘ezer kenegdo’ – your helpmate. Ezer means help and kenegdo means opposite. Eve was created to challenge Adam, and thereby help him reach his full potential. Your spouse is the person who knows you intimately. Again, not in the physical sense, but in the psychological sense. If you wish to broaden your mind and maximize your creativity, you need someone to bounce ideas off. The best person to engage with is the person that understands you the most thoroughly. As a creativity builder, your spouse is considerably more effective than a mentor or a teacher. There’s no question or topic too mundane or out-of-the-box to broach with your spouse. They will never judge you, they are in touch with your very soul. We have countless stories of our greatest Sages and the conversations they had with their spouses, from Rachel, the wife of Rabbi Akiva, to Beruriah, the wife of Rabbi Meir, to Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, prior to becoming the Chief Rabbi!
The third important factor is having the right tools to maximize your creative talent. For a graphic artist, it means investing in a computer with the highest level of graphics card. For a medical researcher, it means maintaining a top-of-the-line laboratory. And even for a dayan (rabbinical court judge), it means purchasing the latest Bar-Ilan or Otzar HaHochma Torah USB, containing comprehensive collections of seforim (holy books) as they are uploaded periodically to digital format. Whatever your passion or profession, having the best tools maximizes your creativity. You may be seeking to broaden your mind, but there are tools to help you get there.
Your soul expresses its incredible power through the medium of the mind. In order to maximize its productivity, it must be calm and provided with the right elements to unleash its creativity. May you soothe your soul and maximize your creative power!