The Four Stages of Jewish Creative Writing


By Yonatan Gordon

The question was asked today on a Jewish writer’s forum how to use “beats” in writing. What follows is the lightly edited answer:

PLEASE NOTE: That this treatment only applies to creative writing and not to the Torah itself, especially the Five Books of Moses which are commanded to be written down into a Torah scroll, and should not be compared to as “song”. 

I understood the question as relating to the use of cadence in writing. While the parallels between the spoken and written word are clearer in poetry, catering to the “inner ear” of the reader generally seems like a good idea.

For instance, whereas King David is known for composing the Psalms, his crowning legacy is as the “sweet singer of Israel.” Even after the Psalms were committed to writing, the primary medium for these “writings” remained their verbal component as prayer.

The importance of this topic broadens, for instance, when discussing the way in which a Torah class should be transcribed into an article. While there are differences between the way something is said and written, the challenge of the editor is to stay true to the original voice of the author, while presenting the material in a manner suitable for readers.

This begs the question, which one is it? Is the written word the journey into a new medium, or as for David, the written representation of something that is still essentially verbal? And if it is still verbal, why should any editing be done to transition it into print?

The answer is a long one, but the short of it is that it comes down to viewing the written word as manifestations of one of our four inner, creative superconscious “songs.” In Kabbalah, there are four levels of song: faith (the simple song), delight of intellect (the 2-part song), delight of the emotions (3-part song), and delight of the speech (4-part speech) as explained in Rabbi Ginsburgh’s Anatomy of the Soul, but to summarize:

1. The oneg pashut of emunah is referred to as the shir pashut (“unstructured song”), while the three varieties of oneg murkav are referred to as:

2. the shir kaful (“two-part song”)—expressing harmony between the two powers of one’s sechel (chochmah and binah);

3. the shir meshulash (“three-part song”)—expressing harmony between the three essential midot (chesed, gevurah, tiferet);

4. and the shir meruba (“four-part song”)—expressing harmony between the four instinctive midot that culminate in rectified speech (netzach, hod, yesod, and malchut).

four songs

For instance, while the first level relates to the simple, uncomplicated expression of the soul, the second level already leaves room for elaboration. To sing according to both chochmah and sing alludes to the interplay between concise thought and elaboration. While the class may have only been a paragraph long in text, the intuitive and attuned editor will be able to expand the material into a full-length article or more.

The three-part song already relates to the two ingredients of a bestselling novel – love and courage – and the interplay between the two (as explained here:

The four-part song, or the interplay between the three behavioral sefirot and kingdom, is most implemented today in self-help best-sellers. There are many examples for this, but now is not the time to discuss specific titles.



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