Reb Shlomo and Rav Ginsburgh on Creativity

Rav with Carlebach - Nachshon in background

[August 1993 Hachanasat Sefer Torah (ushering in the new Torah) ceremony at the Od Yosef Chai yeshiva in Shechem.]

By Yonatan Gordon

In preparation for Reb Shlomo Carlebach’s 20th yahrzeit, 16 Cheshvan, I asked a friend a long-time student of Reb Shlomo, Rabbi Avraham Arieh Trugman, to share a few words. Specifically, I asked if he could share something from Reb Shlomo on creativity.

Rabbi Trugman responded that Reb Shlomo said many times that adopting a Torah lifestyle doesn’t mean that you need to “clip your wings.” Then it was said about the newly observant, that adopting a new Torah lifestyle doesn’t mean giving up on God-given talents and creativity. But now we can already apply this lesson no matter what your background. Whether you grew up observant or not, don’t “clip your wings.” If God gave you some creative gift, then learn to apply it within a Torah context.

Reb Shlomo and Rav Ginsburgh

Close to thirty years ago, Rabbi Trugman arranged what was to be the first of several joint-events between Reb Shlomo and Rav Yitzchak Ginsburgh shlita on 14th Av 5745 (August 1, 1985). The event took place prior to Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of Consolation after the fast of the 9th of Av, and in fitting with the time, the class was on Jerusalem, and the ultimate consolation that will come with the Redemption.

Without going into the topic of the event too much, I thought to bring a short piece from Rav Ginsburgh on “creativity” (although the word is not used there). And then relate the topic to our present times.

In this portion of the class, Rav Ginsburgh went on to explain the meaning of the name Jerusalem (יְרוּשָׁלַיִם). The name can be read as a composite of the two words “fear” (ירא) and “perfect” (שלם), but as Rav Ginsburgh goes on to explain, the “fear” associated with Jerusalem does not refer to being afraid (lower fear; the inner quality of the sefirah of might), but to a higher fear that is characterized by total selflessness that derives from wisdom. And as he explains, “to fear” (ירא) comes from the same root as “to see” (ראה). Sight is the faculty associated with the sefirah of wisdom, or the fear experienced upon seeing Divine revelation, as Abraham did on Mount Moriah at the Binding of Isaac. To quote:

When Shem called Jerusalem “perfection,” he did so because he was inspired by an aspect of “encompassing light,” but he did not have the correct vessel to receive that light within his soul because he had not yet reached the level of higher fear. By overcoming his tenth and final test, the Binding of Isaac, Abraham achieved that level of higher fear within his psyche and successfully incorporated the encompassing light of perfection—the perfect expression of fear, or “Jerusalem” (יְרוּשָׁלַיִם)—into his soul.

Current Events

This past Shabbat we read from the Torah the account of the Binding of Isaac. Thus according to the order of the Torah readings, the very best time to begin meditating on perfection, the completeness of Jerusalem, is now. And continuing from this Torah reading to Av and the rest of the year.

Before returning to the subject of creativity, since we are now doing what Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi calls to “living with the times,” to live with the Torah portion of the week, are there lessons from this excerpt related to the Binding of Isaac that we can apply to the events of last week? Indeed, there are two main lessons, one for each of the two words that comprise the name Jerusalem.

The first is not to be fearful in general, and especially not to be fearful in Jerusalem. Sometimes we say that to sublimate lower fear we need higher awe, awe of God. But here Rav Ginsburgh explained the concept as seeing. To see Divine revelation with our eyes, as did Abraham on Mount Moriah. This also arouses awe, but awe generated specifically through the power of sight.

The second is that Jerusalem needs to be complete. The Land of Israel also needs to be complete, but as was quoted, within the name Jerusalem itself is the word “complete,” “perfect.”

What then are the headlines? That, God forbid, our enemies want to make us fearful, and especially fearful in Jerusalem, and that God forbid, the nations of the world want us to divide Jerusalem (beginning from the Temple mount). This is a clear example of the principle that God sends the cure before the malady, the name before the headlines.

Letting the Wings Soar

With these thoughts in mind we can now return to our subject of creativity. It was quoted earlier that through overcoming the most difficult test of binding his son Isaac, Abraham successfully incorporated the higher level of fear into his psyche and was able to successfully name the city Jerusalem.

Recently, I explained a practical aspect of this to a friend who is working to inspire Jewish souls. I mentioned that generally speaking, those that are the most intuitive or “on target” with their creativity are those that have overcome tests in their lives. And now, as part of a therapeutic process, they are trying to paint, compose, write, or otherwise perform to further return and connect with God. I explained that no matter what their present level of observance, the contributions coming from these souls are cherished.

While this doesn’t mean that these creative contributions fall within the realm of Torah, we can say, as Reb Shlomo did many times, that it is always good for a soul to express itself, to fly. In the excerpt brought from Rav Ginsburgh, we can call this the level of Shem that named Jerusalem “perfect” because he was inspired by the aspect of encompassing light. This was a good and worthwhile “creative contribution” that was further developed by Abraham who incorporated the aspect of encompassing light, and was thus able to give the city the true and complete name of Jerusalem.

Likewise, I explained to my friend that it is always good to encourage Jewish souls to “fly,” to offer their creative contributions. Just that while doing so, there are two pointers to keep in mind.

  1. The first is to expect more intuitively on-target contributions from those that have overcome tests and trials in their lives (which is all of us in these final moments before the Redemption). And secondly,
  2. Be prepared to further develop (not discredit) these creative visions and view all these submissions as therapy from Jewish souls seeking to return and connect with God.

For instance, if a sensitive Jewish soul pens a beautifully poetic metaphor, the best response is not to “clip their wings,” but to explain in greater detail their good imagery according to Torah. The hope is that this will inspire them to further develop their vision into something more precise and detailed in the future.

To conclude with a creative thought, we can now suggest that the right and left “wings” that Reb Shlomo was referring to correspond to Abraham and Isaac, the archetypal figures of loving-kindness on the right (the right “wing”) and might on the left (the left “wing”) respectively.

Specifically the moment when Abraham and Isaac “soared” together, what we can call the soaring of the two “wings” of one person, was at the Binding of Isaac. As Rashi says, “they both went together with the same heart” (Rashi to Genesis 22:8).

Appropriately enough, there is a “soaring” melody for this, composed by Rav Ginsburgh, and sung here by musician Shuli Rand. Of interest is that while Genesis verses 22:6-8 comprise the words for this song, the only words that are repeated are the last three, “and they both went together” (וַיֵּלְכוּ שְׁנֵיהֶם יַחְדָּו); the soaring of the right and left “wings” together as explained above.

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