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The Art of Light

Rav Abraham Isaac Kook, (1865-1935), one of the fathers of religious Zionism, said in a conversation with a Jewish sculptor, “When I lived in London, I used to visit the National Gallery, and my favorite pictures were those of Rembrandt…. Do you know that when I first saw Rembrandt’s works, they reminded me of the rabbinic statement about the creation of light?

“We are told that when God created light [on the first day of creation, [as opposed to the natural light of the sun on the fourth day], it was so strong and pellucid, that one could see from one end of the world to the other, but God was afraid that the wicked might abuse it. What did He do? He reserved that light for the righteous in the world to come. But now and then there are great men who are blessed and privileged to see it. I think that Rembrandt was one of them, and the light in his pictures is the very light that God created on Genesis day.”

The Hebrew word for art is omanut, which is grammatically connected to the word for faith and faithfulness, emunah. As a writer, I am faithful to my art. I know that everything I write won’t be brilliant, but I keep writing; and I have faith that if I keep writing, if I keep up my practice, that my writing will contribute to this world in some small way.

Rav Kook’s words about the light created on the first day, reminded me of this from Seder Y’tzirat Hav’lad, which I’ve adapted. “From the womb a fetus looks and can see from the beginning of the world to its end, and when she emerges, God hits her under the nose, and she forgets everything she saw.”

Rav Kook also wrote, “Literature, painting and sculpture give material expression to all the spiritual concepts implanted in the depths of the human soul, and as long as even one single line hidden in the depth of the soul has not been given outward expression, it is the task of art to bring it out.”

If we’ve seen the light of creation before we are born, and then we forget it, maybe it’s our job to search for it, to try and remember it again in our lives; and art can help us do that. Of course, art can be corrupted and made profane, but I believe that art can make us better human beings. If we go to a museum and view inspirational paintings or read a book that we don’t forget long after we’ve finished reading, those experiences can change us, even in some small way.

Perhaps art is a kind of faithfulness to the world. I think that each of us, whether an artist or not, gets some of that light of creation, and by using the talents we each have, we can bring that light out into the world.

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