Hag Sameach Sh'vuot

Shavuot commemorates the giving of Torah on Mt. Sinai.

That event demonstrated for all time that the Creator is present in the created world, too.

The same God Who was with Mosheh atop Sinai also exists within each of us as an infinite source of creative ideas:

“[Rebbe Nachman of Breslav] said that all scientific discoveries and inventions come from on high. Without such [Divine] inspiration, they could never be discovered. But when the time comes for an idea to be revealed to the world, the necessary inspiration is granted to a researcher from on high. A thought enters his [or her] mind, and it is thus revealed.” [1]

How many “scientific discoveries” are actually the outcome of an intuitive, rather than a rational or empirical process?

“A well-documented case of intuition concerns Frederick Kekule’s (1829 – 1896) discovery of the structure of benzene. Kekule saw the answer in a dream of a snake coiled and biting its tail. In an intuitive flash, he realized that the molecular structure was characterized by a ring of carbon atoms…This discovery opened the way to modern theories of organic chemistry.” [2

Einstein himself said, “When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.” [3

If true of scientific discoveries and inventions, then kal v’chomer, isn’t it true of artistic inspiration as well?

For example, God fills Bezalel with the artistic vision necessary to complete the design and construction of the Mishkan/Tabernacle:

ואמלא אתו רוח אלקים בחכמה ובתבונה ובדעת ובכל מלאכה

“I have filled [Bezalel] with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship…” [4]

Bezalel didn’t “figure this out himself.”

In fact, the word “inspire” comes from the Latin “inspirare,” which connotes “blowing into” — i.e. G-d “breathes” an idea into the mind and heart of the artist or scientist. [*]

Prophets, “literary artists” as it were, knew that they were Divinely inspired to speak their words:

“Then God put forth His hand, and touched my mouth…[and] said to me, ‘Behold, I’ve put my words in your mouth’.” [5]

and

“…I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son [i.e. pupil/disciple]; but I was an herdman and a gatherer of sycamore fruit, and God took me as I followed the flock, and…said to me, “Go, prophesy to My people Israel.” [6]

In fact, once inspired, the prophet can’t resist the inspiration without intense discomfort:

“But if I say, ‘I won’t mention His word or speak anymore in His name,’ His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I’m weary of holding it in; indeed, I can’t.” [7]

How many artists have experienced the same thing — an irresistible urge to create something of which they might not even have a clear idea at first?

I remember some years ago, when I first discovered that I could do simple digital artwork and graphics, I’d get ideas that I could hardly wait to try out. One evening, I was watching TV; every time I got an idea for a variation of a design I’d already done, I had to jump up and run to the computer to try it. I’d only experienced that before during my most active years of playing the guitar. I certainly experience it these days writing my blog — even when I think I’ve finished a piece, something more often occurs to me.

Rabbi Morris Lichtenstein sums it up:

“…when the Divine Mind transmits a truth to man, be it pertaining to the laws of nature, or to man’s own conduct, or to his social organization, or to the aesthetic realm [i.e. any of the arts], it comes without any effort on the part of man. Man, then becomes the receiver, not the seeker, of truth. He becomes a channel through which wisdom flows; he becomes an instrument through which the Divine Mind expresses a truth…When man receives this truth, there is no effort on his part in the direction of attainment; the Divine Truth appears in a flash. it overwhelms the human mind, staggers its logic and strikes all its faculties with conviction.” [8]

So, whether we are doing art or science, or seeking to solve the most practical problems in our lives, every creative impulse we are willing to receive in our minds and hearts re-enacts the receiving of Torah at Mt. Sinai, coming to us from an infinite Source of wisdom and creativity that is always within us.

As the rabbis said:

אין צייר כאלוקינו
“There’s no Artist like our God.” [9]

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[1] Rabbi Nathan of Nemirov; Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom; Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, trans., p. 111
(primary source cited as Kochavay Or, p. 84, note 2)

[2] http://www.p-i-a/Magazine/Issue19/Physics_19.htm

[3] http://www.sfheart.com/einstein/html

[4] Shemot.Ex. 31:3
Plaut translates this: “I have endowed [Bezalel] with a divine spirit of skill, ability and knowledge in every kind of craft…”

[*] In certain contexts, it can also connote “breathing in” — i.e. the artist or scientist “breathes in” an idea from G-d. It’s a good metaphor for inspiration: we don’t really bring the air in, we create a place for it, as it were, and allow it come in on its own.

[5] Yirmiyahu/Jeremiah 1:9

[6] Amos 7:14-15

[7] Yirmiyahu/Jer. 20:9

[8] Lichtenstein, Rabbi Morris; Jewish Science and Health; p. 31

[9] Talmud; Berachot 10a