Adrian A. Durlester

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Random Musings Before Shabbat - Vayakel/Pekude 5761 (Revised 5758)

Craftsman. Artisan. Artist.

This Week, by request, a classic musing from 1998, with some adaptations for 2001. 

Craftsman. Artisan. Artist.

In our modern American society, we seek to very carefully define lines between what we perceive as "true creativity" and simply "skills." I find this a sad state of affairs.

We have become a nation of specialists (and I, and my fellow generalists have become the "odd man out" as a result.) Artists create, artisans and craftsman do. Teachers teach. Designers imagine, engineers make real. And work is just work.

Since I first wrote this musing in 1998 I have also become a full-time teacher in a Jewish Day School. Every day and in every way at school I realize that teaching, no matter how people to try classify it and specialize it, is a truly generalistic profession in many ways. Still, even in education, specialists are generally preferred over generalists. (Of course, the fact that I am teaching Hebrew, Judaica and general music contributes to my overall feeling of "generalism.")

Is it not the intent with which we do the work we do that truly defines the artistry of our work? As it says in Ex 36:2 "everyone whose heart was stirred to do the work." The worker at the Saturn plant who can point with pride to a new car and say "I helped make that" has created what was, for him, a work of art. Can not the manager proudly point to the fruit of his efforts to increase productivity while still keeping employee satisfaction high and think of it as a work of art? For art is the work of the soul. Is that work any less an expression of the human soul than a sculpture, painting, musical composition? And what of the teacher? Their works of art are no less than human beings themselves! Is teaching technique or artistry? I know that in my own classroom, it's a little of both.

We are human, and our values, our emotions, our desires, hopes and dreams manifest themselves in all that we do. Even the most seemingly mundane things. Because when they are done or created, ultimately, for the greater glory of Gd, they are indeed true works of art.

And so it is that I wonder what the Torah means when it repeatedly uses verb forms that say "he did this" "he did that" (Ex. 36:10-39:26.) Over 40 times. (And interspersed only a few times, a "they" and only once, Betzalel." Then, oddly, the last five p'sukim describing the labors (ex 39:27-31) all use "they.")

While the implication seems to be that "he" refers to Betzalel, I wonder if another interpretation is possible. That the "he" being referred to is Gd (we'll just avoid the whole gender issue here, ok?) That all those who labored, who did so because there hearts were stirred, were just channeling creative energy from a higher source.

I have said many time in these musings, that when I play music at services, what comes through my fingers and from the keyboard is t'fila, and it often seems as though the inspiration comes from outside me. Need it be any different if I am teaching a class, typing a memo, or someone is repairing a car engine, or cleaning floors, etc.?

The highbrows of this world want to create a separation between art and craft, between art and simple labor. If, indeed, only "high art" were sacred and everyday work profane would their argument might have merit. But so many of the little things we do, every day, are holy, because we are Gd's creations. The way Subway calls their employees "sandwich artists" might be a gimmick, but there's more truth to that than may be obvious.

As Gd is joyous in all works. let us to be joyous in all our own works. And joyous in our appreciation of the creative work of others. Let each thing we labor to do be to us as a work of art, and may we see the same in all the works of others. Let us take the meaning of the word "art" away from the snobs, highbrows and effete of this world.

And let us not forget that there is a time when the work, when our daily creation of art, must cease, as we heed the word of Ex. 35:2

"Six days of the week you may work, but on the seventh day you must keep a holy Shabbat of Shabbats to Gd."

(Some might argue that this means I should not be playing the keyboard at services on Shabbat. It's not m'lacha to me. It's t'fila.)

May your Shabbat be filled with light and joy. And your week with your works of art, and enjoyment for the works of art of all others.

Shabbat Shalom,


© 1998 & 2001 by Adrian A. Durlester

Some other musings on this parasha:

Vayakhel-Pekudei/Shabbat HaHodesh 5766 - So How Did Joseph Get Away With it?
Pekude 5765-Redux 5760-Pronouns
Vayakhel 5765-The Wisdom of the Heart

Vayakhel/Pekude 5764-Comma or Construct?
Vayakhel 5763-Dayam V'hoteir
Vayakhel/Pekude 5762-Sacred Work
Vayakhel/Pekude 5761 (Revised from 5758)-Craftsman. Artisan. Artist.

Vayakhel/Pekude 5758-Craftsman. Artisan. Artist.
Vayakhel 5760-The Lost Episodes: Too Much of a Good Thing

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