Self-Expression Is Not A Danger To The Jewish World: It’s A Gift
God has littered this world with gifts.
Everywhere, we’re surrounded by light that’s packaged in cardboard boxes, just waiting for us to rip open the seals and bringing the brightness of the sun to the darkness around us.
There are boxes we’ve gotten more used to opening, the kinds we can all agree on. Shabbat. Kindness. Modesty.
With them, it’s simply a job of increasing volume, spreading knowledge of the boxes and recruiting friends to help open them. We know about the boxes, now we just need to find them and bust ‘em open. Easy.
But then there are the boxes that haven’t been opened because people don’t even realize they’re there. Even worse, unfortunately, a lot of people tend to see those boxes as dangerous.
“Better to open this one! It’s safe. Why open a box in which you don’t know what exists, what could happen when it’s unleashed?”
In theory, it all makes sense. But that’s like assuming that your spouse only wants you to open some of the gifts he or she gave you. It’s like saying, “I’ll take this gift because it’s familiar to me, but I don’t know what that one is, and the box looks suspicious, so I’m going to ignore it. I mean, how do I even know you gave it?”
Which is a little silly, because we happen to live in a world where there is only one giver, only one gifter. And where everything except the strictly prohibited is by default a gift waiting to be opened.
In other words, we live in a candy factory, and we don’t even realize it.
By far one of the most overlooked, the most spurned, the most looked at suspiciously, is creativity. And, unfortunately, it also happens to be one of the gifts that has the most potential to spread a light that would permeate every reality around us.
Why is it so spurned?
It’s simple, in my mind. Creativity involves vulnerability. And, that, in reality, is what has been seen for far too long as some sort of danger, some sort of darkness creator.
“That’s an inappropriate discussion for public consumption.”
“What does his wife think of him sharing this?”
None of these words have anything to do with halacha, let alone with an insatiable search to bust open every box of light around us.
They do have one thing in common: fear.
Fear because we have given priority to things like modesty in such a way that blind us to the power of what happens when we appropriately reveal. Fear because we can’t imagine ourselves sharing the same struggles. Fear, most importantly, because vulnerability, sharing struggles, and openness, are often seen as a threat (or even an attack) against our way of life.
When people fear, they think of their religious lives as a reality that needs walls. Walls to protect them from the “outside.” A person’s “way of life” is suddenly more important than anything else.
The problem, when we put ourselves in a wall is that we are cutting ourselves off from the boxes of gifts that God has spread around the world.
We aren’t ghetto-livers, we are journeyers, we are explorers, we are fearless crusaders, meant to find every box, every opportunity, and spread the goodness within.
How can we do that in a wall? How can we do that when we hide from vulnerability? We simply cannnot.
It just so happens that vulnerability, creativity, and expression are some of the biggest gifts Hashem has given us. The potential within this world are almost limitless. Almost impossible to list them all.
But here are just a few:
1. They strengthen belief
Openness in struggle ironically does the exact opposite thing that most people fear it will. By being honest, by looking at our experiences with bravery, we have the ability to look at the things that are weakening our trust in God.
2. They uplift others
But it’s not just about examining ourselves. Have you ever read anything that sounds like it was written just for you? Maybe even by you? The feeling is incredible. Suddenly you are no longer alone. And this piece of creation is now throwing its light into your very heart, uplifting you in the same way that it did for the creator.
3. They break down barriers
Imagine a world where Jewish unity, love, and understanding is widespread. That is the power of art. That is the power of creativity. That is the power of vulnerability. There have been studies that people who read literature are more empathetic. That’s not a coincidence. It’s because God put art into this world to help us understand others better, not just ourselves. It’s much harder to hate someone whose brain you’ve entered, whose heartbeat you’ve felt in your chest. And it’s much easier to love them.
That’s just the beginning, just the start. The gift of creativity is inherently a gift that gives more gifts. It’s a wellspring of light, that, when opened floods into the world with unimaginable power.
Most importantly, though, there are simply some people that are meant to create. People that will be unhealthy, unhappy, crippled, without an outlet that allows them to share with the world in the way vulnerable self-expression allows them to.
I am one of those people. And I know just how much this matters to me. Just as much as eating. Breathing. It is in my blood, and if you cut it away from me, it is as if I am not truly living.
And I know too many people who aren’t living. And I see the effect. It is as if their blood has gone cold. They get angry easily. They are more easily hurt by others. They are, quite simply, not living the life that God has given them. They are trying to live the norm, the majority, the people who do not need what they want.
Can you imagine? Maybe you can. Maybe you’re one of them. And you definitely know someone like that.
Rather than being discouraged, such people should be given the tools they need to go out there. They should know the true limits of openness, the true dangers of opening random boxes.
We should equip the explorers, those who are willing to open the very boxes we are afraid to open. We should reward them. We should cheer them on.
And we should learn from their bravery. From their willingness to go into a world not tread. A world that is filled with perhaps more darkness, but thus has the potential for each box opened to shed that much more light.
Vulnerability, openness, sharing, are not antithetical to modesty or halacha. They, rather, can be strengthened through modesty and halacha. They are the how of vulnerability and creativity, not the whether it’s allowed. They structure our art to be uplifting, to be building, to be towards a purpose. They create limits that remind us to not hurt others, to not use vulnerability as a weapon or as a way of spreading slander.
In other words, God wants us to bust down the artificial walls that are holding back the explorers. His guidebook, his equipment, that he’s provided us with are in order to aid us on our trek. To allow us to delve into the darkest parts of the world and still come out strong and powerful.
And those dark parts of the world, the ones that most need to be treaded, and that creativity allows us to do more than anything else… is ourselves.