01 February 2018

Kabbalah of Creative Process in Postdigital Age



KABBALAH AS A SPIRITUAL BAR CODE

I hear the word kabbalah spoken frequently in Israel where I live.  I hear it from the supermarket checkout clerk when she hands me the long paper ribbon saying, “kabbalah shelkhah,”  “your receipt.”  The Hebrew word kabbalah means “receipt.”  In addition to its use in mundane affairs, kabbalah is the hidden wisdom of the deep structure of Jewish consciousness received from generation to generation. 

It is appropriate that both a supermarket computer printout and the Jewish mystical tradition share the same word.  We all stand illiterate before the secret language of the digital age that only supermarket lasers can read — the bar code on boxes, bottles, and cans.  Kabbalah is a down-to-earth spiritual tradition that provides a symbolic language -- a spiritual bar code for exploring how Divine energies are drawn down into our everyday world.

This Times of Israel blog post is based on my book Photograph God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life and its forthcoming sequel Through a Bible Lens: Biblical Insights for Smartphone Photography and Social Media.

TEN STAGES IN THE CREATIVE PROCESS

Kabbalah has created a Tree of Life model to describe ten stages (sephirot) in the creative process that brings thoughts and emotions into the world of action, the kingdom of time and space.  Thoughts represented by the cognitive sephirot of Wisdom and Understanding are synthesized as Knowledge. The Bible uses the same words, Wisdom, Understanding and Knowledge, to describe both human creativity and God’s creation of the universe.                

It teaches that the artist is “filled with a Divine spirit, with Wisdom, Understanding, and Knowledge and with artistic talent” (Exodus 31:3).  A parallel biblical passage teaches: “God founded the earth in Wisdom, established heavens in Understanding, and with Knowledge the depths opened and skies dripped dew” (Proverbs 3:19-20).

It draws six affective sephirot from the biblical verse, “Yours God are the Compassion, the Strength, the Beauty, the Success, the Splendor, and the Foundation of everything in heaven and earth” (Chronicles 1:29). The ninth sephirah of Foundation funnels all the earlier eight sephirot of the worlds of will, mind and emotions into the tenth sephirah of Kingdom in the world of action.

Gaining insight into your process of forming something new can offer you some inkling of God in action creating the world. 

ALTERNATIVE VIEWS OF CREATIVE PROCESS

I use kabbalah to analyze my creative process in two artworks – Subway Angels and Inside/Outside: P’nim/Panim.   Subway Angels, part of my “Digitized Homage to Rembrandt” series, integrates photography with painting, serigraphy and text.  Inside/Outside: P’nim/Panim is a biofeedback system for creating digital self-generated portraits that I created at the MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies.   Both offer alternative views into the creative process that provide a conceptual model for understanding creative process.

WISDOM FROM NOTHINGNESS

The first stage in the creative process is the sephirah Crown (Keter) – the will to create coupled with faith that one can create and anticipation that the creative process is pleasurable. Without this intention, self-confidence, and hope for gratification, the creative process has no beginning.

Crown sets the stage for the sephirah of Wisdom (Hokhmah) that requires a selfless state, nullification of the ego that opens gateways to supraconscious and subconscious realms.  When active seeking ceases, when consciously preoccupied with unrelated activities, when we least expect it, the germ of the creative idea bursts into our consciousness. This sudden flash of insight is what the kabbalah calls Wisdom. It is the transition from nothingness to being, from potential to the first moment of existence. In the Bible’s words, “Wisdom shall be found in nothingness” (Job 28:12).

SUBWAY ANGELS

The process of creating Subway Angels began in a small Hasidic synagogue in Brooklyn following the reading of the weekly Bible portion from the handwritten Torah scroll.  I listened to the ancient Hebrew words, translating them into English in my mind.  As an artist, listening to the chanting of the passage describing the attributes of the Bible’s prototypic artist Bezalel made me feel at home.   The passage tells how Bezalel is filled with Divine spirit, wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, and talent for all types of craftsmanship to make all manner of MeLekHet MakHSheVeT (Exodus 35:33).  Usually translated as “artistic work,” MeLekHet MakHSheVeT literally means “thoughtful craft.”

At that moment, I was living in the Crown sephirah.  I subconsciously intended to create artworks; I had faith in my ability to create artworks; and I felt that I would derive pleasure from the process of making art.  However, it was the Sabbath and I was removed from my studio, from my classroom where I taught computer graphics, and from my office as head of the art department at Pratt Institute. 

Indeed, the definition of Sabbath rest is to refrain from making MeLekHet MakHSheVeT.  The Sabbath day is biblically defined as the Non-Art day.  It is the day in which all work on the Tabernacle was suspended.  To this day, an observant Jew on the Sabbath avoids doing any of the 39 categories of thoughtful craft that went into the biblical artists’ creation of the Tabernacle. 

My absorption in the rhythm of the chanting of the Torah put me into a meditative state.  I was passively listening, open to receiving.  The stage was set for the sephirah of Wisdom.  

In a flash of insight I realized that as a male artist, I needed to create computer angels.  It suddenly dawned on me that the biblical term for “art,” MeLekHeT MakHSheVeT, is feminine.  Its masculine form is MaLakH MakHSheV, literally “computer angel.”  Art is a computer angel when biblical Hebrew meets modern Hebrew in a postdigital world.

TAKING FORM

Like the sperm that is received by the ovum in the womb, the unformed germ of an idea from the sephirah of Wisdom enters into the sephirah of Understanding (Binah).  This union of Wisdom and Understanding is Knowledge, as Adam knew Eve. 

As soon as the synagogue service came to an end, I rushed to explain to my wife that I needed to make computer angels.  “You need to make what?” she responded incredulously.  As I transformed my unformed insight into words to explain my thoughts to her, I entered into the sephirah of Understanding. 

All manner of thoughts entered my mind on ways to create computer angels. The shapeless idea that ignited the process began to take form in the sephirah of Understanding.  Together, Wisdom, Understanding, and Knowledge form the cognitive realm of thoughts.  Knowledge both unites Wisdom and Understanding and is the gateway to the next six sephirot that form the affective realm of emotions.

FROM OPENNESS TO SETTING LIMITS

The fourth sephirah of Compassion (Hesed) is openness to all possibilities.  I thought of the hundreds of artistic options open to me in creating computer angels and I loved them all.  Compassion is counterbalanced by the fifth sephirah of Strength (Gevurah), the strength to set limits, to make judgments, to choose between myriad options.  It demands that I make hard choices about which paths to take and which options to abandon.  What angel images do I digitize?  What media do I use?  Should I make paintings, lithographs, serigraphs, etchings, photographs, videos, multimedia works, or telecommunication events in which cyberangels fly around the planet via satellites? 

I recalled that a few weeks earlier, my son Ron had sent me an article on Rabbi Kook’s views that the light in Rembrandt’s paintings was the hidden light of the first day of Creation.  At the time, Ron was archivist at Beit Harav Kook in Jerusalem, the residence of the late kabbalist and chief rabbi of the Land of Israel, Abraham Isaac Kook.  It became clear that I needed to digitize Rembrandt’s angels in his drawings and etchings. 

I planned to visit the print room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where I could look at original Rembrandt drawings and etchings and select angel images.  I knew he had created a number of artworks of Jacob’s dream.

“A ladder was standing on the ground, and its top reached up toward heaven, and angels were going up and down on it” (Genesis 28:12). 
Since angels first go up before they go down, they must start their ascent from the lowest of places.  I thought that in New York City, perhaps angels fly up from the subways.  I would paint on subway posters and silk-screen print on them digitized Rembrandt angels and spiritual messages from underground.

BEAUTIFUL BALANCE

As I felt satisfaction with my choice, I departed from the sephirah of Strength to the next stage, the sixth sephirah of Beauty (Tiferet).  This sephirah represents a beautiful balance between the counterforces of Compassion and Strength.  It is the feeling of harmony between all my possible options and the choices I had made.  Beauty is the aesthetic core of the creative process in which harmonious integration of openness and closure is experienced as deeply felt beauty.  The closure of having chosen to have cyberangels fly out of subway placards gave me the feeling that all is going well.

GRACEFUL SUCCESS

The seventh sephirah of Success (Netzah) is the feeling of being victorious in the quest for significance.  I felt that I had the power to overcome any obstacles that may stand in the way of realizing my artwork.  Netzah can also mean “to conduct” or “orchestrate” as in the word that begins many of the Psalms.  I had the confidence that I could orchestrate all the aspects of creating a multimedia symphony of computer angels arising from the bowels of New York City.

The eight sephirah of Splendor (Hod) is the glorious feeling that the final shaping of the idea is going so smoothly that it seems as effortless as the splendid movements of a graceful dancer.  The sephirah of Success is an active self-confidence in contrast with the sephirah of Splendor which is a passive confidence born of a trust in Divine providence that “all will be good.”  It is the power to advance smoothly with the determination and perseverance born of deep inner commitment.  It is the wonderful feeling that all is going as it should.

CREATIVE INTEGRATION

The ninth sephirah of Foundation (Yesod) is the sensuous bonding of Success and Splendor in a union that leads to the birth of the fully formed idea.  It funnels the integrated forces of intention, thought, and emotions of the previous eight sephirot into the world of physical action.  In Chronicles 1:29, this sephirah is called All or Everything (kol).  It channels everything that was playing out in my mind into the craft of making the artwork.  It transports my private mental world into a public environmental arena in which I can create a product to communicate my ideas to others.

NOBLE REALIZATION

This tenth sephirah of Kingdom (Malkhut) is the noble realization of my concepts and feelings in the kingdom of time and space.  It involves all the practical details that go into physically making an artwork. 

I began the realization of my concepts by going to the company that places advertising posters in subway cars.  They gave me fifty different placards on which I painted and silk-screened printed angels and spiritual messages.  On one of them, I used deep blue acrylic paint to paint out the copy on an English muffin ad that showed a large photo of a muffin with a bite taken out of it.  I printed a computer angel in silver ink next to the missing piece of the muffin and printed a new text in gold ink: “The biblical words for angel and food are written with the same four Hebrew letters to tell us that angels are spiritual messages arising from everyday life.”

NEW BEGINNINGS

Exhibiting my Subway Angels series was a culminating activity that gave me the opportunity to stand back and look at what I had done.  This activity is parallel to the Divine act on the seventh day when God looked at the completed Creation and saw that it was good.  My sense of satisfaction, however, began to turn into a feeling of postpartum emptiness.  I had given over my creations to the world and they were no longer mine to possess.

The tenth sephirah of Kingdom, the realm of physical reality was being transformed into the first sephirah of Crown, returning to nothingness permeated by an undefined longing to create anew.  The process had come full circle.  The sephirot of Kingdom and Crown, the end and the beginning, merge into a single sephirah as the creative process is renewed.


CREATING INTERACTIVE SELF-PORTRAITS

I repeat the process of my creating an artwork to help you use the kabbalistic model to become aware of your creative process as you photograph God and creating a Bible blog your life.  Here I describe how I created Inside/Outside:P’nim/Panim, a responsive artwork through which internal mind/body processes and one’s facial countenance engage in dialogue.   Participants in Inside/Outside: P’nim/Panim create a live feedback loop as they photograph themselves.

INTENTION TO INSIGHT

My process once again began in synagogue on the Sabbath day. I was absorbed in the rhythm of the chanting of words from the Torah scroll following them with my eyes. I was far removed from my studio/laboratory at MIT when I suddenly realized that the Hebrew words for face panim and for inside p’nim are written with the same Hebrew letters. This flash of awareness that outside and inside are linguistically one is the sudden transition from Crown to Wisdom, from intention to insight.     

When I told my son what had just dawned on me, my mind left the sephirah of Wisdom for the sephirah of Understanding. The linguistic insight that ignited the process began to take form as an artwork in Understanding.  I sensed that I needed to create portraits in which dialogue between the outside face and inside feelings become integrated in a single artwork.

HARMONIOUS INTEGRATION OF OPENNESS AND CLOSURE

The first three sephirot symbolize the artist’s intention to create and the cognitive dyad of Wisdom-Understanding in which a flash of insight begins to crystallize into a viable idea.

The fourth sephirah, Compassion, symbolizes largess, the stage in the creative process that is open to all possibilities, myriad attractive options that I would love to do. I thought of a multitude of artistic options opened to me for creating artworks that reveal interplay between inner consciousness and outer face. 

Compassion is counterbalanced by the fifth sephirah of Strength, restraint, the power to set limits, to make judgments, to have the discipline to choose between myriad options. It demands that I make hard choices about which paths to take and which options to abandon.  As an MIT research fellow with access to electronic technologies, my mind gravitated to creating digital self-generated portraits in which internal mind/body processes and one’s facial countenance engage in dialogue through a biofeedback interface.

The balance between the affective dyad Compassion-Strength is the sephirah of Beauty.   As I felt satisfaction with my choice, I departed from the sephirah of Strength to the next stage, the sixth sephirah, Beauty, the aesthetic core of the creative process in which harmonious integration of openness and closure elicits an exquisite feeling.

ORCHESTRATING DRY PIXELS AND WET BIOMOLECULES

The seventh sephirah, Success, is the feeling of being victorious in the quest for significance. I felt that I had the power to overcome any obstacles that may stand in the way of realizing my artwork. I had the confidence that I could orchestrate all the aspects of creating a moist media artwork that would forge a vital dialogue between dry pixels and wet biomolecules, between digital imagery and human consciousness. The eighth sephirah, Splendor, is the splendid feeling that the final shaping of the idea is going so smoothly that it seems as effortless as the graceful movements of a skilled dancer.

CREATING A BIOFEEDBACK LOOP

The ninth sephirah, Foundation, is the sensuous bonding of Success and Gracefulness in a union that leads to the birth of the fully formed idea. It funnels the integrated flow of intention, thought, and emotion of the previous eight sephirot into the world of physical action, into the tenth sephirah of Kingdom, the noble realization of my concepts and feelings in the kingdom of time and space. It is my making the artwork.
INSIDE/OUTSIDE: P’NIM/PANIM

I constructed a console in which a participant seated in front of a monitor places her finger in a plethysmograph, a device that measures internal body states by monitoring blood flow, while under the gaze of a video camera.  Digitized information about her internal mind/body processes triggers changes in the image of herself that she sees on the monitor. She sees her face changing color, stretching, elongating, extending, rotating, or replicating in response to her feelings about seeing herself changing.  My artwork, Inside/Outside: P’nim/Panim, created a flowing digital feedback loop in which mind/body state p’nim effects changes in one’s face panim, and panim, in turn, effects changes in p’nim.  It creates living self-generated, interactive, digital portraits in the Kingdom of space and time.

22 January 2018

Bible Blog Your Life’s Story


This photo from the Torah Tweets blogart project http://bibleblogyourlife.blogspot.com shows 5 generations: My mother-in-law Anna Benjamin, her daughter my wife Miriam, her granddaughter Iyrit, her great-granddaughter Inbal, and her great-great-grandson Eliad.

Bible blogging invites you to discover creative ways that your narrative relates to the biblical narrative.   It presents opportunities to use your imagination for discovering how the biblical narrative provides fresh insights for seeing the spiritual dimensions of your storyline. 

This Times of Israel blog post http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/bible-blog-your-lifes-story/ is based upon my book Photograph God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life http://photographgod.com.  

Seeing your life as a coherent narrative gives meaning to it.  You can discern the significance of events in your life by joining them together in a narrative sequence.   You can make spiritual sense of your life by telling it as a story through sequences of photographs in dialogue with creative texts inspired by biblical verses.  

The biblical narrative is a rich and multidimensional look at an ancient world that is amazingly accessible to the contemporary reader.  It brings to life fascinating people and their complex interactions that have been the source of delight for readers from generation to generation for thousands of years. 

Although it focuses in on a particular family, nation, time, and place, it tells stories that resonate in the minds and hearts of people from diverse cultures through translations from the original Hebrew into hundreds of languages.  But it is more than a storybook.  It uses its stories to help each of us come to see humanity in its multifaceted relationships to God, spirituality, and morality. To Bible blog your life, you need to turn the stories into mirrors in which you can see yourself.

The chronological blog form invites the creation of a personal narrative, telling your story.  A blog is a web log, an Internet journal through which you can document the flow of your life’s activities, thoughts and plans.  It connects your past and present to your future through a stream of images and words. 

Seeing your life as a coherent narrative gives meaning to it.  You can discern the significance of events in your life by joining them together in a narrative sequence.   You can make sense of your life by telling it as a story through sequences of photographs in dialogue with creative texts.  The photographs in you blog are most powerful when they reveal the spectrum of divine light as they tell your story  in relation to biblical stories. 

The blog form is an ideal literary and artistic structure for recording your experiences and commenting on them.  As social media, blogs open opportunities to share life stories with others worldwide through the blogsphere and Twitterverse.

CREATE A DIALOGUE BETWEEN YOUR STORY AND THE BIBLICAL NARRATIVE

I participated in the inaugural symposium launching the Institute for Postdigital Narrative at ZKM, Europe’s foremost research center for art and new media.  The Institute’s director Professor Michael Bielicky wrote, “Mankind has always operated on narrative to explain and understand its own existence. Our times, in particular, call for the exploration, expression, and especially, creation of new story-telling formats.”

In The Art of Biblical Narrative, University of California Professor Robert Alter explains that the Bible “has a great deal to teach anyone interested in narrative because its seemingly simple, wonderfully complex art offers such splendid illustrations of the primary possibilities of narrative.”  

Paying attention to the literary structure of the biblical narrative as you explore its content can offer you significant lessons on how to write your story as it unfolds both visually and verbally.          
Bible blogging invites you to link your narrative to the biblical narrative.   It asks you to create a dialogue between your story and the Bible’s story.  It presents opportunities to use your imagination for discovering how the biblical narrative provides fresh insights for seeing the spiritual dimensions of your storyline.

Bible blogging offers creative opportunities for life-long learning.  "Delve into Torah and continue to delve into it, for everything is in it. Look deeply into it, grow old and gray over it, do no move away from it, for you can have no better portion than it" (Avot/Ethics of the Fathers 5:26). 

THE BIBLE STORY WHILE STANDING ON ONE LEG

The Five Books of Moses is the most widely read and translated book in the world.  It communicates a universal message by telling the story of a single family evolving into a nation. It demonstrates how a close look at one culture’s narrative can shed light on fundamental human similarities as expressed in other cultures. 

The biblical narrative begins with the creation of the universe and the trials and tribulations of the common ancestors of all humanity – Adam and Noah. The Tower of Babel project was the early version of globalization, a project of all the people of the world joining together for a common purpose. It resulted in disaster because it created a single homogenized culture that eliminated individual differences and cultural diversity. Today’s inevitable globalization process can be equally disastrous if it fails to recognize and honor differences between families, tribes, religions, and nations.

In its third chapter, the Bible shifts its focus from all of humanity to the life of Abraham and the story of the Children of Israel. It begins with the divine command to leave one’s familiar past in order to envision a new future. Abraham is told: “Walk yourself (lekh lekhah) away from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). A word lekhah “yourself” added to lekh “walk away” teaches that one can only come to see the new land by moving psychologically as well as physically away from an obsolete past.  Abraham is identified as a Hebrew, literally “a boundary crosser.”

The personal power of Abraham to leave an obsolete past behind and to cross conceptual boundaries in creating a new worldview is a meaningful message for our emerging postdigital age. He deserted the local gods of his father in which divine messages were perceived as flowing through the narrow channel of an idol’s mouth. Instead, he gained the insight of the existence of an all-encompassing spiritual force that integrates the entire universe and beyond with all humanity in one universal ecosystem.

Abraham’s son, Isaac, is the only one of the three patriarchs who spends his entire life in the Promised Land. He is the patriarch who roots his family in the land. Isaac’s son, Jacob, however, uproots himself and goes alone to live in a foreign land. When he returns with his large family two decades later, he wrestles with an angel to free himself from his deceptive ways reinforced by his father-in-law. He is injured in his struggle and limps his way back to his roots with a new name, Israel (related to the word “straight”) instead of Jacob (related the word “crooked”).

In his old age, Israel leaves his land a second time for Egypt, in Hebrew Mitzrayim (“narrow straits”). Israel’s family grows there in number as it becomes enslaved in the narrow perspective and alien ways of the totalitarian global power of the day. At the zero hour when all seems lost after centuries in Mitzrayim, the Israelites win their freedom and escape to the desert.  Trekking through the desert while experiencing its wide- open expanses begins the process of leaving narrowness of thought behind and returning to the open-systems thought of their ancestor Abraham.

Seven weeks later at the foot of Mount Sinai they are given the Torah, a blueprint for building a new life in freedom when they return to their land. Leaders of the twelve Israelite tribes spy out the land from the wilderness of Tzin to Rehov, which can be translated as “wide expanses.” The challenge was to abandon the narrowness of Mitzrayim and bring the expansive consciousness of the desert into every aspect of their lives in the villages and cities they would build in the Promised Land.

Ten of the spies return to the desert encampment strongly opposing entering the Land. They were unable to escape their slave mentality and enter into the open-systems thought of a liberated people. Only Joshua and Calev met the challenge. The Torah tells us that Calev of the tribe of Judah had “a different spirit.” He was able to make the paradigm shift required to build a society in freedom. Unfortunately, the ten tribal leaders who were unable to make the shift wandered the desert for forty years and died there.

The next generation born in the open desert rather than in the narrowness of Mitzrayim entered the Promised Land with Joshua and Calev. After centuries struggling to realize the Torah blueprint free in their own land, seeming to be most successful under the leadership of David and his son Solomon, Jacob’s family splits up into the kingdoms of Israel and Judea. The conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel and the forced dispersal of ten tribes led to their assimilation.

When Judea fell to the Romans, however, a plan of survival without national sovereignty was devised by the rabbis of Yavneh and codified later in the Talmud. It worked. Although the Jewish people from the kingdom of Judea were dispersed across the globe, they retained their Hebraic consciousness as “boundary crossers” for two millennia. 

Midrash is two thousand years of creative narratives designed to elucidate the biblical narrative.  It takes the biblical narrative and spins out tales that read between the lines of the biblical text to reveal messages hidden in the white spaces between the Hebrew letters.  These inspirational stories form a vast literature illuminating biblical texts from countless alternative viewpoints.  Digital culture provides new media and contexts in which traditional story-telling can be extended from a verbal activity to a visual one.  Blogging your life in relation to the biblical narrative creates contemporary midrash.

TORAH TWEETS: INTERPLAY BETWEEN TWO STORIES

The Torah Tweets blogart project that my wife Miriam and I created to celebrate our 52nd year of marriage exemplifies weaving a contemporary narrative with the biblical narrative.  During each of the 52 weeks of our 52nd year, we posted photographs reflecting our life together with a text of tweets that relates the weekly Torah reading to our lives.  It can be accessed at http://bibleblogyourlife.blogspot.com. 

Our Torah Tweets blog is a dialogue between images and text.   Most of the images are photographs that I took of events in our lives that offer fresh insights on the Torah portion of the week while revealing the spectrum of divine light.    The photographs in three of the posts were created by guest bloggers, our grandson Or and granddaughter Shirel.  A few photographs are copyright-free images from the Internet. The text is composed of tweets, sentences of not more than 140 characters required by the Twitter social networking website. In addition to forming the text of our blog, we published the Torah tweets via Twitter for worldwide dissemination.

Limiting the number of words in the Torah Tweets blog posts is a creative challenge that imitates the Torah itself which does not waste words.  Torah tweets are like bursts of bird song that sometimes gain a haiku-like poetic flavor.  140 is the numerical value (gematria) of the Hebrew word hakel, which means to gather people together to share a Torah learning experience as in Leviticus 8:3 and Deuteronomy 4:10.

Our year-long blogart project is a narrative art form that reveals a paradigm shift from the Greek to the Hebraic roots of Western culture.   The conceptual background for the Torah Tweets blog is offered in my book The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness.  It explores new art forms emerging from the postdigital age that address the humanization of digital technologies.  My discussion of blogart reveals the contrast between static, moderate, passive Hellenistic consciousness revived in the Renaissance and dynamic, open-ended, action-centered Hebraic consciousness at the core of postmodern art.

The Torah Tweets blog transforms the mundane into the spiritual, the ordinary into the extraordinary, and experiences of daily living into expressions of biblical values.  The   blog postings tied to each of the Five Books of Moses -- Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy – are the next five chapters.  These posts can offer ideas about the wide range of options for linking the two narratives.  They offer you multiple ways and paths for telling your story in images and text in colorful interplay with the biblical story.

CREATING CONTEMPORARY RELEVANCE

The biblical narrative is a rich and multidimensional look at an ancient world that is amazingly accessible to the contemporary reader.  It brings to life fascinating people and their complex interactions that have been the source of delight for readers from generation to generation for thousands of years.  Although it focuses in on a particular family, nation, time, and place, it tells stories that resonate in the minds and hearts of people from diverse cultures through translations from the original Hebrew into hundreds of languages.  But it is more than a storybook.  It uses its stories to help each of us come to see humanity in its multifaceted relationships to God, spirituality, and morality. To Bible blog your life, you need to turn the stories into mirrors in which you can see yourself.

Each individual not only sees himself in a different light in the biblical mirror, but sees God differently.  God is revealed to Moses when he encounters a voice emanating from a burning bush in the desert.  God says to him, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”  (Exodus 3:6).  Commentators ask why God did not simply say, “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”  Was the God of the three patriarchs not same God?  They point out that each generation and each individual experiences God differently.   Indeed, the same person experiences God differently as his life story unfolds.      

The biblical narrative’s surface simplicity, underlying complexity, and thematic repetition invite us to deconstruct it.   Deconstruction is a postmodern way of reading texts valuable for coming to grips with biblical texts.   It looks inside one text for another, dissolves one text into another, to build one text into another.   It goes beyond decoding a message to ceaseless questioning of interweaving texts through thoughtful play with contradictory messages and multiple references.   It breaks texts apart to free up their multiple elements for reconstruction into new configurations of meaning that speaks to our times.

The biblical narrative offers us an image of the deconstruction of a text and its reconstruction at a different level of consciousness.  In Chapter 6, I wrote about the definitive act of deconstruction when describing Moses taking the “Made by God” stone tablets and smashing them to bits. Rather than being punished for what would seem to be the ultimate sacrilegious act, The Talmud explains that he was praised for his physical act of deconstruction to free the text from being set in stone to be reconstructed by human hands.

To this day, the Torah is received written by the hand of a scribe on a flowing spiral scroll rather than engraved by God on rectangular stone tablets.  Indeed, the Torah printed in a book form trapped between two rectangular covers is not read publically in synagogue.   It must be read from a scroll where the last letter of the Torah “L” in the word yisrael is read linked to the first letter “B” in bereshit (in the beginning) to form the Hebrew word for heart .  The heart of the Torah is where the end flows into the beginning to symbolize an unending message always inviting ongoing deconstruction and reconstruction.  The medium becomes an integral part of the message.

It is told that the Hebrew letters from the broken tablets were scattered over the desert to invite every generation to gather them for themselves and re-assemble them to recreate the text anew.   Bible blogging challenges you to pick up the scattered letters and assemble the biblical narrative in fresh ways by creatively linking it to your narrative through imaginative interplay between pictures and words.

BLOGGING THE SPECTRUM OF DIVINE LIGHT

Bible blogging your life provides creative opportunities to explore the spectrum of divine light through photographing God in all that happens to you while crafting a vibrant dialogue between your story and the Bible’s story.   It draws on kabbalah to challenge you to inspirationally link an ancient spiritual tradition to your life in a networked world that offers myriad imaginative options.

The final five chapters are devoted to each of the Five Books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy).  Each chapter is divided into weekly portions that are publically read in synagogue.  You can see how these five books are divided up into 54 portions at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weekly_Torah_portion.  Except for leap years, readings are doubled up to correspond to the 52 weeks in a solar year.

REVEALING SPIRITUALITY IN YOUR LIFE

Each of the next five chapters corresponds to the Five Books of Moses.  They present the weekly portions in our Torah Tweets blogart project through which Miriam and I celebrated the 52nd year of our marriage.  To glean ideas for creating your blog look at the interplay between images and texts in our 52 posts in chronological order at http://bibleblogyourlife.blogspot.com.   

We invite other couples who find the Bible an inspiration to celebrate their relationship by creating their own Bible Blog.  Bible blogging can also be a meaningful way for individuals and families to reveal spirituality in their lives.   Every week, study a biblical portion and select a passage that speaks to you.   Create a blog posting that includes photographs of your life that week, present or past, which relate to the passage you selected.  Add a text that links your images and the biblical passage to spiritual dimensions of your everyday life.  It is a creative challenge to write your text as tweets limited to 140 characters.  That way, you can disseminate your Bible blog text worldwide via Twitter.
In addition to Miriam and me linking our story to the Bible’s in each weekly posting, we reveal reflections of the spectrum of divine light in them.   We present the colors of the spectrum – Compassion, Strength, Beauty, Success, Splendor, and Foundation – as photographs of God in our life.  Sometimes one of these divine attributes stands out.  In other postings, one is less obvious, several intersect each other, or all come together.  Following is a selection Torah Tweet posts that exemplify the six colors of the divine spectrum in the Kingdom of space and time. 

BLOGGING COMPASSION

We saw Hesed/Compassion/Loving Kindness in action visiting Achuzat Sara Children's Home in Israel, a place that 130 children consider to be their home.  Headmaster Shmuel Ron told us that the aim of his work is to put smiles on the faces of orphaned, abandoned, neglected, and abused children.  Achuzat Sara helps its children gain self-esteem, develop emotionally and spiritually, and grow into responsible and productive adults.   We posted photographs of the children engaged in their activities at   “Deuteronomy 1: Realizing Isaiah's Vision” about the biblical portion Devarim/Words read from the Torah at Shabbat Hazon/Vision.  It relates Moses’ charge to all of Israel to create a society that promotes social justice (Deuteronomy 1:1, 6-8). Following the reading of this Torah portion, we read Isaiah’s vision:  “Learn to do good, seek justice, relieve the oppressed, render justice to the orphan, and plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:1, 17).

We also photographed Hesed/Compassion/Loving Kindness at the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind.  We posted a series of six photographs revealing Hesed in the posting “Exodus 3: Song of the Dog.”   In the Torah portion, Bo/Come, we learn that the dogs did not howl as the Israelites were leaving Egypt (Exodus 11:6, 7).  The awesome quiet of the dogs at the freeing the Israelites from slavery gives dogs an honored place in Judaism.  The loyalty of a dog to his master provides a model for human gratitude to God for everything in life. 

We photographed dogs learning to become the reliable eyes of their blind human partners.  They were learning to navigate obstacle courses at the Center and then in the real world with their blind partners.  “Do not place a stumbling block before the blind” (Leviticus 19:14).  “Accursed is one who causes a blind person to go astray on the road” (Deuteronomy 27:18). Guide dogs transform the negative mitzvah to not place a stumbling block before the blind to a positive mitzvah to facilitate avoiding the block.

BLOGGING STRENGTH

We posted a powerful story of Gevurah/Strength in “Genesis 11: Home after 27 Centuries” on the Torah portion Vayehi/Lived.   We shared Jacob/Israel’s utter amazement at seeing his son Joseph’s children Ephraim and Manasseh when he had never dreamed that he would ever see Joseph alive. (Genesis 48:11).   We spent a day photographing the children of Manasseh, Bnei Menashe, one of the Lost Tribes of Israel reuniting with the children of Judah in the Land of Israel after 2,700 years. 
 Although born and raised at the heart of the pagan culture of Egypt, Manasseh had the strength to retain his identity as the grandson of the patriarch Israel.   The descendent s of Menasseh isolated in India at the border of Burma for millennia exhibited the same strength, determination, and fortitude by retaining the traditions of their forefathers.   We posted photos of them in Kiryat Arba, the biblical Hebron where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are buried.   On the wall of their community center, the prophetic vision of Jeremiah is written: “I will return the captivity of Judah and the captivity of Israel, and I shall assemble them as in the beginning.”

The Gevurah/Strength of a solitary tree surviving for over a thousand years in a hostile environment forms the core of the story “Exodus 8: Growing Gold” on the Torah portion Tetzaveh/Command. Hiking in the Negev desert with our son Ron, we caught sight of an enormous acacia tree isolated in the valley as we came over the top of a hill.  We began to photograph the tree as we walked towards it.  We posted a sequence of photos of this lone tree from afar in the wide desert expanse, growing larger as we got closer, ending in a close-up of a single branch in bloom.  

“Make an ark of acacia wood….  Cover it with a layer of pure gold on the inside and outside” (Exodus 25:10, 11).   We asked Ron, a rabbi and biologist who lives with his family in the Negev, why significant objects created for the Tabernacle were made of commonplace acacia wood coated with gold rather than pure gold.  He explained that the acacia tree symbolizes the living, growing, dynamic oral Torah that engages all generations in creative dialogue.  It must be joined with gold, a stable element that neither tarnishes nor rusts, symbolizing the eternal values of the written Torah.  “It [Torah] is a tree of life for those who grasp it …. Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace” (Proverbs 3:18, 17).

BLOGGING BEAUTY

Tiferet/Beauty is the aesthetic balance that emerges from joining Hesed/Compassion and Gevurah/Stregnth.  It arises from artistic integration, dynamic interplay, creative dialogue, and elegant connectivity.  In the Torah Tweets blog, it is exemplified by rejoining in artistic pursuits in our day the descendants of the two artists who collaborated in creating the Tabernacle millennia ago
“Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur of the tribe of Judah did all that God commanded Moses.  With him was Oholiav ben Ahisamakh of the tribe of Dan, a carver, weaver, and embroiderer using sky-blue, purple and crimson wool, and fine linen” (Exodus 38:22, 23).  The blog post “Exodus 11: Zionist Miracle” for the Torah portion Pekudei/Reckonings describes a school of the arts in Jerusalem where the tribes of Judah and Dan have miraculously come together after having been separated for thousands of years.   I had the amazing privilege as head of Emunah College School of the Arts in Jerusalem to teach descendants of both Bezalel and Oholiav.  My students from the tribe of Dan were flown out of Ethiopia to join their brethren from the tribe of Judah in Israel as fellow artists. 

Tiferet/Beauty is also embodied in the process of photosynthesis that joins two simple compounds to create the all the food we eat and the oxygen we breathe.  A biblical injunction that anticipates contemporary scientific knowledge and ecological consciousness is presented in the blog post “Deuteronomy 5: Green Leaves” for the Torah portion Shoftim/Judges.  “You must not destroy trees by swinging an ax against them for from them you will eat.  Do not cut them down because the tree of the field is man's life” (Deuteronomy 20:19).

When Miriam and I were first married, I was a biology teacher teaching about the crucial role of trees in maintaining the global ecosystem.  I taught how trees draw water up through their roots, take in carbon dioxide through their leaves and transform them into sugar and oxygen.  Without this photosynthesis, there would be no life on our planet.

I photographed and blogged the dissimilar leaves of frangipani and ficus trees, colorful bougainvillea, new leaf growth sprouting from an old pine tree in a park near our house, and date palms in an oasis near the Dead Sea.  I revealed beauty hidden within leaves by photographing them through a microscope and painting on the photographic enlargements with colorful pigments mixed into molten waxes.

We celebrated the New Year of the Trees when we began to see the blossoming of almond trees on our drive to Jerusalem.   The Torah is likened to a tree of life (Proverbs 3:18).  “A righteous person flourishes like a palm tree and grows tall like a cedar” (Psalm 92).

BLOGGING SUCCESS

We posted photographs in Israel of birthing a calf, baking pizza, defending  Israel, paving roads, sweeping streets, and collecting garbage to tell the story of Netzah/Success in the blog post “Leviticus 4: A Different Spirit” for the Torah portion Shelah/Send forth.   “Send forth men, if you please, and let them explore the land of Canaan that I give to the Israelites” (Numbers 13:1).  Ten of the spies brought forth a disparaging report on the land that they had explored.  They sought to retain a purely spiritual life.  They were unable to differentiate between the drudgery they had left behind in Egypt and hard work as free men building their own country. 

God said, "The only exception will be my servant Calev, since he showed a different spirit and followed me wholeheartedly.  I will bring him to the land that he explored, and his descendants will possess it" (Numbers 14:24).  Calev could envision spirituality emerging from commonplace tasks and arduous work.  Today, the creative spirit and work ethic of descendants of Calev of the tribe of Judah has transformed modern-day Israel into an amazing success story. 

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that "The miracles which sustained the Jews in the wilderness were not the apex of spiritual existence.  They were only a preparation for the real task: taking possession of the Land of Israel and making it a holy land.  The purpose of life lived in Torah is not the elevation of the soul; it is the sanctification of the world."   Israel’s success reveals the spiritual side of birthing a calf, baking pizza, defending Israel, paving roads, sweeping streets, and collecting garbage.
We photographed our great-grandson Eliad dressed in his Power-Ranger costume to celebrate Purim with his superhero kindergarten classmates for the blog post “Leviticus 2: Power-

Ranger/Spiderman/Batman Defeat Haman/Hitler/Hamas” elucidating the Torah portion Tzav/Zakhor (Command/Remember).  “He shall remove his garments and don other garments” (Leviticus 6: 4).
“Remember what Amalek did to you on your way out of Egypt.  How, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the way, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear” (Deuteronomy 25:17-18)  On the Shabbat before the holiday of Purim, we are charged not to forget Amalek's merciless murder of Jews solely because they are Jews.  In the Scroll of Esther read on Purim, the incarnation of Amalek is Haman who plots to murder all Jews in the Persian kingdom but fails. 

While working on this blog post, we could not forget!  We were witness to modern day Amaleks' aims to annihilate the Jewish people that will also fail.  Our son Moshe Yehuda went to the funeral of Udi and Ruth Fogel and their three children who were butchered in their beds by bloodthirsty Arabs, while Hamas was firing deadly missiles into Israel, and Haman’s Iranian descendants were calling to wipe Israel off the map.  Our son joined us later at the cemetery in Petah Tikva to remember Miriam's mother Anna Benjamin on the second anniversary of her passing at 102.  There are no tombstones to mark her parents' graves.  They were torn from their home in Amsterdam to be viciously murdered in Auschwitz. 

We posted a photo of Israel Defense Forces officer Moshe Peretz, father of Anna’s great-great-grandson Eliad, who said kaddish for her parents on a IDF mission to Auschwitz.  Power-Ranger Eliad aided by Spiderman and Batman will succeed in thwarting the evil plots of Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Persian ayatollahs.  “For the Jews there was light, gladness, joy, and honor” (Esther 8:16).

BLOGGING SPLENDOR

“God said to Moses:  Speak to your brother Aaron that he shall don a tunic and pants on his body of special cloth, gird himself with a cloth belt and wear a special cloth cap”(Leviticus 16:2, 4).  Like Moses’ brother Aaron having donned a special uniform for his work, our son Aaron donned the uniform of a professional baseball player.   We created the blog post “Leviticus 6: Kabbalah of Aaron's Baseball Cap” for the Torah portion Aharay/After. 

According to kabbalah, Aaron symbolizes Hod/Splendor to counterbalance Moses’ Netzah/Success.  Netzah aspires to reshape what is, while Hod invites us to be at peace with what is.  Hod is the glorious feeling of success that is going so smoothly that it seems as effortless as the splendid movements of a graceful dancer or the final strike-out pitch in a no-hitter.  Hod is the wonderful feeling that all is going as it should.

We named our southpaw son Aaron when he was born, but call him Ari.  I photographed him and his Petah Tikva Pioneers teammates wearing red tunics, belts and baseball caps with white pants.  Ari was both pitcher and coach.   He used his human relations skills to pursue peace between players who came from many lands to play in the Israel Baseball League. “Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace” (Avot /Ethics of the Fathers 15:2).

We watched ten players on the baseball diamond creating a magnificent kabbalistic dance of ten sephirot.  We saw Keter, Hokhmah and Binah playing the outfield, Hesed, Gevurah, Netzah, and Hod playing the infield, and Malkhut as catcher.  Ari as Tiferet on the mound pitched his fastball past the batter Yesod of the opposing team into the mitt of Malkhut.

Hod/Splendor in Behukotai/In My Statues, the final portion of the third book of the Bible, is expressed in the blog post “Leviticus 11: All the Torah in a Potato.”  God assures the Israelites, “If you will walk in my statutes…I will keep my sanctuary in your midst” (Leviticus 26:3, 11).   The biblical Hebrew word for “statute” is hok derived from the same root as engraving, hewing or carving out.  An engraved letter does not exist as a distinct entity independent of the material out of which it is carved. 

Hok suggests that the most splendid way of learning Torah is like carving letters out of everyday life so that Torah and our lives are integrally one.  This mode of learning Torah is a deeper level than study from hand-written or printed letters that join ink and paper – two separate things.  If we integrate Torah with our life story, we will be rewarded with material blessings of bountiful crops and abundant fruit.  

We can reveal all the Torah in a potato by carving out all the Hebrew letters that have no separate existence from the potato itself.  The blessings in the opening verses of Behukotai /In My Statues begin with alef and end with tavAlef to tav represents the entire alphabet, alef being the first letter and tav the last.  The letter lamed in the Hebrew word “walk” as in “walk in my statues” means “to learn.”  Miriam photographed me carving these three letters from within a potato.

BLOGGING FOUNDATION

Yesod/Foundation brings together all the sephirot and funnels them into Malchut/Kingdom, the realm of space and time where we live our lives.  It is the blending channel where all divine attributes are creativity integrated in preparation for actualization in our everyday world.   It is the lens through which we can see divine wholeness, abundance, and blessing.              

Yesod is where photos of family come together on refrigerator doors.  Our family is presented in the blog post “Genesis 6: Children, Grandchildren and Great-grandchildren” for the Torah portion Toldot/Offspring.  “And these are the offspring of Isaac son of Abraham” (Genesis 25:19).   We photographed our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren celebrating Shabbat Todot with us in our Petah Tikva home. “From generation to generation, they will dwell in the Land of Israel where the wilderness will rejoice over them, the desert will be glad and blossom like a lily….  Her wilderness will be made like Eden and her desert like a divine garden; joy and gladness will be found there, thanksgiving and the sound of music” (Isaiah 51:3, 35:1).

Yesod/Foundation is where the spiritual world of Emanation, the cognitive world of Creation, and the affective world of Formation merge and flow together into the material world of Action.   We are elevated beyond these four worlds in the blog post “Leviticus 8: Higher Than Sky” for the Torah portion Kedoshim/Holy.

“For three years the fruit shall be forbidden to you, they shall not be eaten. In the fourth year, all its fruit shall be holy to praise God.  And in the fifth year, you may eat its fruit and thus increase your crop” (Leviticus 19:23-25).  We were in Crete when we studied the Lubavitcher Rebbe's explanation that the fruit of a tree's first four years correspond to the four worlds of being.  However, the fifth year when the fruit can be eaten anywhere by anyone is the highest level, higher than holiness that transcends the world.

We photographed these worlds during our week in Crete.  Action (Asiyah) is our everyday world of ice-cream delivery trucks, motor scooters and merry-go-round horses.   Formation (Yetzirah) is the world of our feelings and emotions that manipulate our strings like many dangling Pinocchio marionettes.  Creation (Beriah) is the creative world of mind, of fresh insights, of deepening understanding, and of growing knowledge.  Emanation (Atzilut) is a holistic world in which divine light is revealed in transcendent realms.  The highest level is when divine light flowed down into our hotel inspiring the chef to create delicious deserts from the fifth-year fruits.

I retold the Hasidic tale that was my presentation at the Sky Art Exhibition organized by MIT at the BMW Museum in Munich.   “When a skeptic heard Hasidim telling of their rebbe's ascent to heaven, he discreetly trailed him as he left the synagogue and walked home.  He saw him emerge from his home in workman's clothes with an ax in his belt and a rope draped over his shoulder.  The rebbe chopped down a small tree, cut off its branches and tied them in a bundle that he brought into a shack at edge of the village. Peering in a window, the skeptic saw a frail old woman.  The rebbe put wood in her stove and cooked up a pot of stew. When the Hasidim told ecstatically about their rebbe's return from heaven, the skeptic added, "If not higher than that!"