I live in a city of artists. Being an Angeleno means living and working in a place where everyone has a project, whether it’s art, writing or editing. I work in walking distance from three coffee shops (and driving from six more – it’s LA!) and everyone one of them is filled with folks working on their next endeavor. This city is filled with people who have the urge towards the new — to create something that has never been seen or heard before. It’s like as one person told me, the greatest export of LA is creativity itself. I’ve written some on spirituality and creativity because I think that creativity is at its heart a soul-centering and God-partnering activity. Wonder, awe, love, are all powerful inspirations, and when we turn them into deeds, we are doing God’s work in the world.
There is a weight, though, to creativity, not one that should stymie our personal development, but something that should be brought to the surface. The creative mentality that we celebrate in LA, can become an obsession. Have you ever been to a party where the person you are talking too keeps looking over your shoulder for someone better to speak with? This is the kind of energy I’m speaking of, the one that says the new is all that matters. The kind of mentality that says you have to obsess over the next greatest thing, because nothing lasts. Maybe it’s because LA has one of the largest and oldest gig economies in the world, (it’s the entire structure of Hollywood) or it’s that fear that you are only as good as your latest hit, but when creativity becomes an obsession, it becomes a burden. It leads down a dark path where nothing at hand is as good as what is around the corner. The life dreamed of is just not as interesting as the life lived. It’s almost as if real life is not what is in front of you, but what is ahead of you; by living in the future you are dead to the present.
The weight of creativity can kill you.
This week’s Torah portion, Toldot give us an antidote to the burden of creation. In it we find, Isaac, one of our founding fathers. You would think being a patriarch of an entire way of life would mean that he — Isaac, would use all of his creative force to bring God and the covenant into the world. Afterall, his father Abraham spent his entire adult life journeying through the world making spaces for the new idea of God’s oneness and goodness. Wherever Abraham wandered he built altars and shaped the minds of those around him. Isaac, however, never leaves the land, he does barely move from one place to another. One of the only actions that Isaac takes is to re-dig the wells that his father had started. (Gen. 26:15). It’s strange in our fast moving world to see Isaac as founder and patriarch. He appears more like a failed creative. He’s almost like that guy at the party that you say hi to because you have to, but two minutes in, you are looking over his shoulder for someone more interesting.
Unless you dig deeper.
The rabbis teach us that Isaac understood something that no other founder did —that to share your wisdom with the world is not always to create something new, but to invest in something that lasts. They teach that from the moment of the Binding on Mt. Moriah, Isaac knew his life was not about building himself up, but building others up. The Midrash adds that it is precisely because of Isaac’s spiritual outlook that Exodus from Egypt could take place. (Mekhilta R.Shimon Vaera 35; Ex. Rabba 15:11) The idea is that with nothing to prove to the world, Isaac’s spiritual energy was free from the weight of creative ambition. He could let his energy pass from his own liberation to collective liberation.
What we learn from Isaac’s life is that there is power in humility and freedom when we live in the present. Isaac is the freest and deepest of all of our founders. His life was enough just as is. The Torah teaches that he is the only one whose name that God didn’t change. “Isaac” was enough for God. He was enough for God.
You are enough for God.
Like Isaac, you are a founder too. Your life is a project — your creativity matters, but you are not the object of your life story. You are the subject. You can use your creativity to build up your body, you can build a career, you can build wealth, and you can build fame. But at the end of your life, your body will fail, your career will be over, your wealth will come with you, your influence will fade. At some point you won’t be remembered. What we learn from Isaac is that you can make the time to be free from the weight of your own creativity so you can invest yourself in other people. You can free yourself from your story so you can help others be free as well.
Profound and eloquent as always. Thanks, Rabbi Farkas. A happy Thanksgiving and Shabbat Shalom to you and yours.