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I'm feeling completely uninspired this week; perhaps fitting since the parsha is about inspiration - the naming of Bezalel to make God's plans for the Tabernacle a reality. God cannot simply have random people do this work. Creating sacred spaces and objects takes more than talent, it takes inspiration. That is, it takes becoming filled with spiritual energy and direction. The inspired artist and artisan (both specifically named) has let himself become a vehicle for something outside himself. I know the feeling; sometimes when I read a poem I wrote a long time ago, I feel amazed that I wrote it, and remember little of the process, and I am far from greatness.

So feeling uninspired, I went back and found a d'var Torah I wrote three years ago for this parsha, and re-post it here. It's relevant in more than one way, since I am once again beginning to collect thoughts for this year's interfaith service at Netroots Nation.

As many of you know, I have been collecting words of inspiration for the service at Netroots Nation from people of all religious or philosophical traditions.  We have gathered quite a collection, all of it interesting, and it's amazing how similar various traditions are in those beliefs that inspire us to tikkun olam, repairing the world.

This week's parsha begins with a major symbol, both of the Jewish people, and of the light of wisdom in the world:  the menorah, the seven-branched candlestick that illuminates the tabernacle in the desert, and later in the Temple.

But the menorah did not create itself, nor did God create it directly.  There is an artist involved, named Bezalel.  Bezalel received his specifications for the Tabernacle and its ritual objects from Moses, but he more than the other artisans who built all these things was led by the spirit of God in his work.  God chose Bezalel as one with special gifts, who would be able to take the blueprint given to Moses and turn it into art.  Could God have created the menorah himself?  Of course.  But in the world after creation, God works through human beings.  

The blessing over bread blesses God who "brings forth bread from the earth."  We are taught that this is to show us that God needs us to help him, to harvest wheat, and make flour, and bake it into bread.  God is still bringing forth bread from the earth, but he is doing it through the farmer, the miller, the baker.  

So the creative spirit that comes from the Creator enters humans who are led to create.  They are in-spirited, or inspired as we now say.  Isaac Luria taught that the six branches on either side of the menorah represent the six branches of human learning, while the center represents Torah.  Human and divine knowledge are both necessary to light the world.  God and science are not opposed to each other;  rather, God supports science as the central stalk of the menorah supports the other six.

As I started collecting words from Kossacks that inspire them to work to make the world a better place, I received a message from Arnold Eisen, the Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary which included these words, with which I close:

The Creator of the universe seeks human assistance in completing the work of Creation. The world is not good enough as it is, the Torah insists, and you and I can make it better. All of us are needed for this task: Jews and non-Jews, men and women, old and young. Everything that each and every one of us brings to the task is required: the sum total of our diverse experiences and learning, our skills and our relationships, our intelligence and our passion, all the arts and all the sciences: all our hearts, all our souls, all our might.

Shabbat shalom.

Originally posted to Elders of Zion on Fri Jun 06, 2014 at 09:12 AM PDT.

Also republished by Street Prophets .

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tips for the spirit of creativity (8+ / 0-)

    The theme for this year's Netroots Nation service will be, how do we keep from despair, what in our belief systems keeps us fighting to make the world a better place rather than giving up to despair at the way things are. I will be posting a diary asking for contributions this week-end.

    We need a world in which we ask "What's happened to you?" more and "What's wrong with you?" less. (From a comment by Kossack nerafinator)

    by ramara on Fri Jun 06, 2014 at 09:11:31 AM PDT

  •  Ramara I have to take issue with these (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ramara

    statements.  

    " But in the world after creation, God works through human beings.....So the creative spirit that comes from the Creator enters humans who are led to create."  These ideas may be based on belief, but they are not based on reality. There are thousands and millions of people who create wonders in art music architecture etc. etc. who have no gods flowing through them, tapping into their brains or influencing them in any way.   They simply have wonderful complex human brains and good imaginations.

    "God and science are not opposed to each other;  rather, God supports science as the central stalk of the menorah supports the other six."  First of all, there is NO relationship between religion and science.  Science is all about reality based evidence and "God" is exactly the opposite.  You are basically saying that a discipline based on evidence and reality is supported by a being that is neither real nor evidenced.   It makes no sense, and there is absolutely no way that you can demonstrate your statement with any kind of evidence.

    Finally I totally disagree with the claim that "Human and divine knowledge are both necessary to light the world." There is no way to define "divine knowledge" much less demonstrate its effects on our world.  For the world to improve, the hearts and minds of mankind, not gods, must be applied.  We can imagine gods and all kinds of things about them, but to get the work done, we need human powers. No gods need apply.

    Somehow I think this post will not make you smile?

    •  Science and religion (5+ / 0-)

      began as the same thing - they began when some primitive being stepped out into the world, looked around, and said what's all this about? Both are attempts to organize the world, learn about how it works, and influence it.

      Both began as questions like "What makes the thunderstorms, and what kills crops, and what will help babies live" and things like that. Early religions were attempts to answer these questions and, by creating rituals to the gods they posited, to make these events less random and to gain some mastery over them. This was the way most peoples worked to organize their knowledge.

      It's only in the past few hundred years that science and religion have diverged, and even now, most religions accept the discoveries of science as advancements of human knowledge. The Vatican has a representative at the astrophysical program here at the U of Arizona and there are priests with PhD's in many of the sciences. Jews, both religious and secular, have long been scientists and doctors. Science and religion are not enemies.

      Please do not confuse the rantings of a few radical Christian sects to represent all religion.

      We need a world in which we ask "What's happened to you?" more and "What's wrong with you?" less. (From a comment by Kossack nerafinator)

      by ramara on Fri Jun 06, 2014 at 11:25:58 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  My apologies (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Eowyn9, Navy Vet Terp

        to most Christian denominations and to Muslims to whom scientific knowledge is also accepted; they also contribute to our knowledge every day.

        We need a world in which we ask "What's happened to you?" more and "What's wrong with you?" less. (From a comment by Kossack nerafinator)

        by ramara on Fri Jun 06, 2014 at 06:17:12 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  The Vatican has its own observatory (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ramara, Navy Vet Terp

        but in my view, only because a long time ago it realized that if it didn't join science and even try to co-opt it, it would lose the race to own human minds.  

        No, science and religion are not enemies.  They are just not related at all.  Religious people certainly do work in science, but if they apply their religious beliefs to their scientific work, they don't do well in the field, and their submissions for publication fail.  The only reason religious people are able to do science is because they are able to mentally compartmentalize the two spheres of ideas. If they apply the scientific method to their religious ideas, the religious ideas would be shown to be nothing more than imaginary. And if they apply their religious ideas to their science, it's not science anymore.

        I am not just thinking of fundamentlist Christian sects when I make these statements.

    •  And another way of looking at this (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ramara

      by Midrash and Talmud:

      First the Midrash:  The day came when God had decreed that Moses would die, but Moses didn't want to die so he spent all day writing a Torah scroll, figuring God wouldn't let him die before the Torah scroll was finished.  But Moses finished two hours before sunset (really, it takes months and years, but) but God was so impressed with Moses writing the scroll He changed His mind about killing off Moses and told the sun to set so Moses would survive the day that had been decreed for his death.  But the Sun refused to set - the sun told God - You have decreed to the very second when I should set and your decree cannot be changed.  So with the sun's refusal to obey, God had no choice but to kill off Moses before the day ended.

      Moral - once the movement and the rotations of the heavenly bodies have been set - they cannot be changed.  The laws of nature and science prevail.

      And from the Talmud:  Bava Metzia 59b.  The rabbis argue over an obscure issue - whether a certain type of oven can be purified after the oven had contact with a corpse.  The majority of the rabbis said no but Rabbi Eliezer refused to accept the majority decision and said:  

      'If the law is according to me, let that carobĀ­tree prove it.'

      He pointed to a nearby carob-tree, which then moved from its place a hundred cubits, and some say, four hundred cubits. They said to him 'One cannot bring a proof from the moving of a carob-tree.'

      "Said Rabbi Eliezer, 'If the law is according to me, may that stream of water prove it.'

      "The stream of water then turned and flowed in the opposite direction.

      "They said to him, 'One cannot bring a proof from the behavior of a stream of water.'

      "Said Rabbi Eliezer, 'If the law is according to me, may the walls of the House of Study prove it.'

      "The walls of the House of Study began to bend inward. Rabbi Joshua then rose up and rebuked the walls of the House of Study, 'If the students of the Wise argue with one another in law," he said, "what right have you to interfere?'

      "In honor of Rabbi Joshua, the walls ceased to bend inward; but in honor of Rabbi Eliezer, they did not straighten up, and they remain bent to this day.

      "Then, said Rabbi Eliezer to the Sages, 'If the law is according to me, may a proof come from Heaven.'

      "Then a Heavenly Voice went forth and said, 'What have you to do with Rabbi Eliezer? The law is according to him in always.'

      "Then Rabbi Joshua rose up on his feet, and said, 'It is not in the heavens!' (Deuteronomy 30:12).

      "What did he mean by quoting this? Said Rabbi Jeremiah, 'He meant that since the Torah has been given already on Mount Sinai, we do not pay attention to a Heavenly Voice, for You have written in Your Torah, 'Decide according to the majority' (Exodus 23:2).

      "Rabbi Nathan met the prophet Elijah. He asked him, 'What was the Holy One, Blessed be He, doing in that hour?'

      "Said Elijah, 'He was laughing and saying, "My children have defeated me, my children have defeated me."  

      No one takes this literally.  The point is that mankind is ruled by reason and not by Divine intervention - and even God accepts this.  And there is nothing more irrational then insisting that the earth and universe and I guess the Big Bang occurred only 6,000 years ago, or that climate change is not taking place.

      "Corporations exist not for themselves, but for the people." Ida Tarbell 1908.

      by Navy Vet Terp on Fri Jun 06, 2014 at 02:59:31 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  If mankind is ruled by reason and (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Navy Vet Terp, ramara

        not Divine intervention, then how does that reconcile with ramara's claim that God causes the inspirations that allow man to do art, etc.?

        •  God is not all-powerful (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Eowyn9

          on earth and cannot decide what happens in the world.

          I don't picture God inserting stuff into our minds, but divine creation is over and he can only create through human beings. Arlo Guthrie once gave a wonderful non-divine description of inspiration, saying that sometimes he feels there is a river of songs running through the air, and all he has to do is reach up and grab one.

          We need a world in which we ask "What's happened to you?" more and "What's wrong with you?" less. (From a comment by Kossack nerafinator)

          by ramara on Sat Jun 07, 2014 at 08:10:29 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I LOVE that quote. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            ramara

            Had never heard that before, but it's a perfect image. A river of songs running through the air. Beautiful!

            "We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." (Joni Mitchell)

            by Eowyn9 on Sun Jun 08, 2014 at 09:37:22 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  There is good evidence (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Eowyn9, Navy Vet Terp

      that many people in all branches of human endeavor - science, art, politics, political action - not only believed and still believe in some God or gods, but felt called to their particular work by their personal and perhaps irrational belief.

      We need a world in which we ask "What's happened to you?" more and "What's wrong with you?" less. (From a comment by Kossack nerafinator)

      by ramara on Fri Jun 06, 2014 at 06:21:44 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  From what science tells us the brain is the whole (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ramara, Navy Vet Terp

        of our individual worlds and is not subject to any supernatural influences. Religion may try to tell us something else, but there is no way to produce evidence for religious claims concerning our brains and the world.   If someone feels that their particular interests are the result of a "calling" from such an outside force, what they are really experiencing is a calling from within their own consciousness which is generated only from within their own brain.  Scientific research (neuroscience) contintues to not only explore this, but to confirm it more day by day.   Everything we experience and imagine is generated by the brain. And when the brain dies, all that is US, our memories, consciousness, ideas, etc. die too.

        And that actually is the most reasonable explanation for our condition as human beings.

        •  But it's the subjective experience (3+ / 0-)

          that matters. The religious experience (as opposed to religious dogma and beliefs) comes from the brain stem, the amygdalla, the seat of emotion. It probably is a matter of the language one uses to interpret the experience, and I would bet that a true religious experience is the same as what Maslow would call a peak experience.

          My question to you is, why do you care what language anyone else uses to describe a real experience? It's not an experience of the rational part of the brain, but of the emotional. People should be able to ascribe whatever explanation makes sense to them of a profoundly moving experience.

          Again, I am not talking about any particular religion or dogma. My guess is that what Buddha experienced under his tree is very close to what Moses experienced on his mountain, and also of what many artists experience as inspiration. It's deeply felt and deeply personal.

          The brain is the center of all sensation for us, so of course it's where such experience is centered - but not everything that happens in the brain is reasonable nor can be explained away simply by using rational thought.

          We need a world in which we ask "What's happened to you?" more and "What's wrong with you?" less. (From a comment by Kossack nerafinator)

          by ramara on Sat Jun 07, 2014 at 07:32:07 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  It's not the language that bothers me.. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            ramara

            it's the claims that there are supernatural forces that insert thoughts and ideas into the brain from outside of it.

            I'm not saying that people don't have incredibly inspiring inner experiences (I had one in a field one time that was mind blowing).  I'm saying that these experiences are all produced by our own brains, which are continually revealing to science just how powerful they are.  The fact that we "feel" these phenomena so deeply is not in any way any kind of evidence that they are anything more than an exhibition of what the brain as an organ is capable of.

            •  But that's the frame (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Fishtroller01, Navy Vet Terp

              in which some people make sense of the experience. What's wrong with that? I'm not saying it's true, just that I don't see anything wrong with someone's believing it. Would you argue that Martin Luther King was not inspired by what he believed? Or Bach, or Michelangelo?

              Again, I'm not saying it's true or untrue, just that some people experience it as such.

              We need a world in which we ask "What's happened to you?" more and "What's wrong with you?" less. (From a comment by Kossack nerafinator)

              by ramara on Sat Jun 07, 2014 at 10:59:47 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I know that is how people (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                ramara

                experience these things and they do so because of the mythologies we have lived under for so long that tell them the source of these experiences is supernatural.

                I am offering that while this might not be wrong exactly, it might be dishonest.  Why do we present these ideas when we do not have evidence to support them?   Are we able to have just as full of an experience as humans without these mythologies and supernatural imaginings?   I think we not only can, but we can actually improve our world by moving past using these old ideas as the measuring stick for explaining our world and our minds.

                MLK actually had to think outside of the box of scripture to argue for civil rights. Slavery was not only accepted in the scriptures, but it was accepted by Jesus.  While MLK used the Exodus story as his model, he forgot that the freeing of the Jewish slaves came at the cost of the deaths of Egyptian children, which if he had applied his humanistic leanings toward, he would have had to drop as his inspiration.   But I get off on a tangent here...

                What I am asking I suppose is WHEN is it a good time to finally decide to tell our children that the feelings of inspiration and deep emotional experiences arise from only their brains and have no other source?  In other words, when will we be honest enough to change that frame?

                •  Some people already do (0+ / 0-)

                  teach their children a different frame.

                  There are people who believe in a life of the spirit without believing in any particular mythology or scripture. And there can be something very beautiful about old mythologies whether you believe in their literal truth or not. When I write about inspiration, I do not mean that some supernatural being inserts these things in one's mind. It's a metaphor for the way the experience feels. I guess where we differ is that I would not take that metaphor away from those who use it as a way to understand the experience, any more than I would force a particular frame or metaphor on anyone.

                  We need a world in which we ask "What's happened to you?" more and "What's wrong with you?" less. (From a comment by Kossack nerafinator)

                  by ramara on Sat Jun 07, 2014 at 12:53:55 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I would not "force" anyone to (0+ / 0-)

                    think a certain way... that surely counters the goal of freethought. And I certainly would not attempt to take away the use of metaphors from anyone.  But there is another way to "force" people into thinking something is true that has no evidence behind it... by repeating it (especially to children) to the point of making it appear true.  For example, every day in our country, children are led in saying the Pledge of Allegiance, which says that there is a "God".  So what are the children learning here?  That all the adults around them and even their own public insitutions are saying that "God" is a truth about the universe.

                    I honestly don't think that most people who talk about a god being the source of their inspiration are thinking about that statement as a metaphor.  I think they really believe that something outside of them is coming into them and causing something to happen that otherwise would not have happened ("I could never come up with this idea myself.")  This actually lessens the wonders of the human brain by attributing its wonders to another source.  It puts us in the position of downgrading our own intelligence and abilities to put forth wonderful ideas on our own.

        •  With all due respect, (3+ / 0-)

          you have absolutely no way to prove this.

          If someone feels that their particular interests are the result of a "calling" from such an outside force, what they are really experiencing is a calling from within their own consciousness which is generated only from within their own brain.  
          Science, to be blunt, has no clue what consciousness is, let alone how it interacts, if at all, with the supernatural and divine, if such things exist.

          You have every right to your own beliefs, but don't try to buttress them with pseudoscientific confabulations. That's not honest or scientific.

          "We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." (Joni Mitchell)

          by Eowyn9 on Sat Jun 07, 2014 at 04:38:57 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  "Science" is not some monolithic entity that .. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Eowyn9, ramara

          speaks to people. Science is an intellectual and practical activity -- a systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through experiment and observation.

        •  I'll disagree with one sentence (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Eowyn9, ramara, Old Iowa Liberal
          And when the brain dies, all that is US, our memories, consciousness, ideas, etc. die too.
          My father deserted my mother when she was pregnant with me and hasn't been seen since, so until I met my wife it was just her and me.  My mother died in 1997 and I have thought about her every day since that day.  I feel that a part of her is within me, that she lives within me.  This may  not be rational and is not science, but it's how I feel.

          "Corporations exist not for themselves, but for the people." Ida Tarbell 1908.

          by Navy Vet Terp on Sat Jun 07, 2014 at 06:31:38 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Fishtroller, how do you know for certain (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Navy Vet Terp, ramara

      that God/gods are not working through you right now? At this very moment, as you strive with "all your heart, all your soul, all your might" to seek the truth and dispel what you see as ignorance and superstition? Is this not an endeavor worthy of one who serves God, or truth, or the Absolute?

      Though this is not a Jewish parable, I am reminded of Jesus' story about the sheep and the goats, where the goats (the unbelievers who turn out to be the "good guys" in the end, while the sheep are pious hypocrites) ask in bewilderment, "When did we ever serve you? We didn't even know you existed." And Jesus replies, in effect, that whatever they did for others in the name of mercy and compassion, they were actually doing for him. (I am, of course, paraphrasing.)

      I'm also reminded of the scene from C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle where Aslan (Lewis' symbol for Christ) tells Emeth, a Calormene -- nominally an enemy of Narnia, and Aslan -- but a sincere and honest seeker after truth, that what Emeth had really been seeking all along was Him.

      Indeed, I think that atheists or agnostics who seek the truth with honesty and integrity are far, far closer to the spirit of God than so-called "believers" who hide their own doubts and questions, or who simply don't care about the truth!

      "We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." (Joni Mitchell)

      by Eowyn9 on Sat Jun 07, 2014 at 04:34:12 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks Eowyn. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Eowyn9

        That's exactly what I feel - that if God is anything it is found in seeking truth.

        We need a world in which we ask "What's happened to you?" more and "What's wrong with you?" less. (From a comment by Kossack nerafinator)

        by ramara on Sat Jun 07, 2014 at 08:15:33 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  You're welcome! (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          ramara

          I just realized I reversed the sheep and the goats in the parable. Oh well.

          I guess I'm secretly a "goat" at heart. Who wants to be a sheep, after all? :D

          "We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." (Joni Mitchell)

          by Eowyn9 on Sun Jun 08, 2014 at 06:24:51 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Creativity (4+ / 0-)

    Whether we believe that God created Man in his own image, or (as some cynics have suggested) that Man created God; the two have one important attribute in common:  Both God and Man are creative.  To Dorothy L. Sayers, (who was herself a storyteller), this was the most important way humans resembled God, and she once wrote a book in which she attempted to describe the creative process through the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity; (The Mind of the Maker, which I really need to tackle one of these days).

    Her contemporary J.R.R. Tolkien had a similar view of creativity, athough he called it "sub-creation" to differentiate mere human invention from divine ex-nilho capital C Creation. He once wrote a lengthy poem on the subject, a portion of which he quoted in his essay "On Fairy-Stories"

    ...Though now long estranged,
    Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
    Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
    and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned,
    his world-dominion by creative act:
    not his to worship the great Artefact,
    Man, Sub-creator, the refracted light
    through whom is splintered from a single White
    to many hues, and endlessly combined
    in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
    Though all the crannies of the world we filled
    with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
    Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
    and sowed the seed of dragons, 'twas our right
    (used or misused). The right has not decayed.
    We make still by the law in which we're made
    .

    -- Mythopoeia by J.R.R. Tolkien

    Read my webcomic, "Hannibal Tesla Adventure Magazine" at http://www.kurtoonsonline.com/

    by quarkstomper on Fri Jun 06, 2014 at 07:22:53 PM PDT

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