By Rabbi Adina Allen
Beresheit Bara Elohim, In the beginning, God created.
These are the first three words of the Torah, which we begin reading again this week. We roll all the way back to the beginning of beginnings, to the first event in the Torah: creation. Acting out of some desire or impulse, God dives deep into the tohu v’vohu, the depths of primordial chaos, and creates: separating light and dark, dividing waters, shifting land and seas, appointing celestial beings, forming plants and animals, and fashioning human beings.
The opening chapter of Beresheit creates a powerful case for creativity: we are all creative, we are created to create, and our creating creates the world. It is this case for creativity that forms the basis for the work we do at The Jewish Studio Project and, we believe, that has the power to revitalize the Jewish experience.
We are All Creative
“Beresheit Bara Elohim.” God is, first and foremost, a Creator. The Torah begins with these words to teach us that the fundamental nature of the Divine is to be creative. Later in the Torah portion, we learn that human beings are created b’tzelem Elohim – in the image of the Divine. By linking these two concepts, we formulate the powerful assertion that humans are made to be creators. Creativity is inherent in each and every one of us. It is imbued in us from the very beginning. It is a foundational aspect of what it means to be human and an essential pathway to connection with the Divine.
Beresheit teaches us not only about the origin of creativity, but also about the role of the creative process. Creativity, as enacted in these verses, is the Divine’s way of bringing more goodness into the world. After each act of creation the text reads, “Vayar Elohim ki tov” “and God saw that it was good.” Creativity is meant as a means for making sense of the chaos and darkness, of manifesting new ways of seeing and being, and, therefore, as a means of bringing more goodness into the world – for ourselves and for all of creation.
We Are Created to Create
Reading the first chapter of Genesis as a call to create is the foundation of our work at The Jewish Studio Project (JSP). JSP was created to provide a new Jewish experience: one in which we emulate the creative aspect of the Divine and, in so doing, bring more good into the world. Part urban art studio, part beit midrash (house of Jewish learning) and part spiritual community, JSP exists to activate the creativity in individuals and communities to make meaning in our lives, promote positive social change and inspire a Judaism that is vibrant, connective and hopeful. We offer a unique methodology that combines Jewish learning and creative arts exploration to investigate relevant questions about our lives and our tradition.
Several dynamics in our culture make this approach crucial. First, we live in a society in which there is, as Lesley University Professor Shaun McNiff writes, “a pervasive sense that creative expression is restricted to an anointed group.” Second, separating us further from our creative instincts are social and professional pressures that inhibit us as we grow older. These pressures reduce our comfort with risk taking and our willingness to be vulnerable, key building blocks of creative expression.
What is so powerful about Beresheit is that it provides a theological framework that both models and democratizes creativity. Regardless of whether or not we consider ourselves “an artist” or “the creative type,” Genesis reminds us that we all possess the capacity for creativity. This means that each of us has the ability to imagine, to play with the raw material of our lives, to see things in a new light and to wrestle with the stuck places within us. As beings made in the image of the Divine, we are given the license and the tools to emulate the creative process illustrated in Beresheit: to explore, create, behold, and praise.
Our Creating Creates the World
We see the power of creativity every day at JSP. Our work with adults across the country has shown us that when creativity is activated, good things happen: hearts open, we connect to one another in deep and authentic ways, and we discover new insights about our lives and the world around us. When we bring our creativity to Judaism, we are able to truly claim our role as the inheritors and innovators of today, adding our unique voices and diverse perspectives in a way that renews our living tradition for ourselves and our community.
In the morning prayer service we say, “Mechadaish b’chol yom taamid maasei beresheit,” God creates daily, renews constantly, the work of creation. As humans made in the Divine image, we are invited into the ongoing process of creation. As we start the Torah cycle over again this week, may we be reminded of the power and potential of the creative process to renew us and our Judaism. And may our creativity enable us to create a world that is ever-more Ki Tov.
Rabbi Adina Allen is Co-Founder and Creative Director of The Jewish Studio Project. She was ordained by Hebrew College in 2014 and is an alum of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship.