Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Learning From Everything

May 3, 2012 12:03 pm 0 comments

Author Jonah Lehrer. Photo: www.kera.org.

Jonah Lehrer’s latest book, Imagination: How Creativity Works, challenges us to rethink our ideas about innovation and the limitations we so often place on ourselves.

We buy into the myth that creativity has to do with the arts rather than the way we solve problems or build relationships. But creativity is stamped all over the universe. It is our job to leverage it in ourselves and to create environments where ideas can run free and collide with other ideas to generate a world we could only once imagine. Lehrer believes that creativity is largely the product of collaboration, busting another myth that it is reserved for solitary geniuses.

On the one hand, this is not news for the Jews. Genesis One opens with God’s ultimate act of creation and the mandate that we act in God’s image. That means that we work for six days and rest for one. The work that we do is generative and filled with possibility. On the other hand, we come from an ancient tradition that values convention and ritual; these depend on consistency of practice and repetition. Where do we find ourselves between the mandate to create and the obligation to preserve?

The Hasidic rabbi, Abraham Yaakov of Sadagora, died in 1883. He was a descendent of Dov Baer of Mezritch who was referred to as the Great Maggid or storyteller. Rabbi Avraham regarded the partnership between God and man as fundamental to the act of new creation. One of Rabbi Avraham’s teachings was on the saying “There is not a thing that does not have its place.” Humans, he believed also have an important place. Why, then, if we all have a place do people often feel crowded? Rabbi Avraham’s answer is simple and deep: “Because each wants to occupy the place of the other.”

In this vein, Martin Buber in Tales of the Hasidim tells a wonderful story about this special scholar. Rabbi Avraham once told his Hasidic disciples that they could learn something from everything: “Everything can teach us something, and not only everything God has created. What man has made has also something to teach us.”

“What can we learn from a train?” one Hasid asked dubiously

“That because of one second once can miss everything.”

“And from the telegraph?”

“That every word is counted and charged.”

“And the telephone?”

“That what we say here is heard there.”

In case you were wondering (because I was), the telephone was invented in 1876. If we really believe in the gifts of technology, then perhaps we can find spiritual value and holiness in all the new modalities of communication that we have, just like Rabbi Avraham learned about the importance of time from the train, the importance of measured words from the telegraph and the way words travel from the telephone. He admired the new and encased it in frameworks that were timeless. I invite you to be Rabbi Avraham’s disciple and fill in the blanks below and send it back:

What can we learn from Twitter?

What can we learn from a dishwasher?

What can we learn from e-mail?

What can we learn from a computer?

Or think of your own sacred teachings from other appliances and devices. I await your creativity!

Dr. Erica Brown is a writer and educator who works as the scholar-in-residence for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and consults for the Jewish Agency and other Jewish non-profits. She is the author of In the Narrow Places (OU Press/Maggid); Inspired Jewish Leadership, a National Jewish Book Award finalist; Spiritual Boredom; and Confronting Scandal.

Editor’s note: This article is distributed with permission of Dr. Erica Brown. Subscribe to her “Weekly Jewish Wisdom” list here.

The Algemeiner newspaper delivers breaking news and insightful commentary from Israel, the Middle East and Jewish communities around the world | Host to an international Jewish interest blogger community covering Zionism, Israeli politics, Middle East security, terrorism, Jewish tradition, Jewish art, Jewish culture, Jewish music, Jewish activism, Jewish family and spirituality, interviews, profiles, features, video and much more. Be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Relationships Yossi Vardi Credits Pushy Jewish Mother for His Startup Success

    Yossi Vardi Credits Pushy Jewish Mother for His Startup Success

    Millionaire entrepreneur Yossi Vardi credited his success in start-ups to his Jewish mother continuously pushing him to do better, Daily Mail reported on Thursday. “Jewish mothers are never satisfied and nothing is ever good enough,” he said, adding that his mother, who died 15 years ago, used to compare him with his cousins and say he was “an idiot.” “For most of my life I have been trying to show her I’m not,” he continued. “I keep on trying even now.” Vardi, […]

    Read more →
  • Theater US & Canada Seth Rogen Unveils New Christmas Movie — ‘Will Open on Thanksgiving, Made by Jews’ (VIDEO)

    Seth Rogen Unveils New Christmas Movie — ‘Will Open on Thanksgiving, Made by Jews’ (VIDEO)

    Famed actor Seth Rogen on Tuesday unveiled with typical comic fanfare the trailer for his new Christmas film. The movie “was made by Jews… and opens on Thanksgiving,” Rogen pointed out on Twitter. The Night Before tells the tale of three “ride or die homies” celebrating one last debauchery-filled Christmas Eve reunion before they become too busy to keep up their annual tradition. In an effort to make the night as memorable as possible, they set out to find the “Nutcracka Ball – the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish History Art Can Inspire Faith; It Can Also Empower Destructive Ideologies

    Art Can Inspire Faith; It Can Also Empower Destructive Ideologies

    A June 2015 art exhibit, “The Transformative Power of Art,” at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, harnessed the universal language of art to convey an important message: “Our fragile Mother Earth faces the devastating consequences of climate change, a defining challenge of our time.” The exhibit also included sixteen portraits of people from all over the world who have “contributed to the common good of humanity in one way or another and have transformed the way we […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports Israeli Muslim Cage Fighter Says He’s Proud to Fight Under Jewish State’s Flag

    Israeli Muslim Cage Fighter Says He’s Proud to Fight Under Jewish State’s Flag

    A 32-year-old Circassian Israeli Muslim Mixed Martial Arts fighter from Abu Ghosh says he takes pride in fighting under the Israeli flag, Israel’s Walla reported on Sunday. Like most Circassian Israelis, Jackie “the Punishment” Gosh was born Sunni Muslim. He became observant about eight years ago, and is now scrupulous in following his religion’s tenets, praying five times a day and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. Gosh is also very proud of his Israeli nationality, and sees no contradiction between […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Music New Mark Skinner Documentary Explores Jewish, Arab Rap Scene in Israel (VIDEO)

    New Mark Skinner Documentary Explores Jewish, Arab Rap Scene in Israel (VIDEO)

    A new documentary explores the lives and work of Jewish and Arab rappers in Israel and how the ongoing conflict in the region has impacted their lyrics, the U.K.’s Jewish Chronicle reported on Thursday. Hip Hop in the Holy Land is a six-part series co-directed by Mike Skinner, the British frontman of hip-hop group The Streets, and produced by Noisey, a music channel published by Vice news. The first episode, published last week, shows Skinner meeting with Tamer Nafar, the founder of one of […]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada 49ers Running Back Jarryd Hayne Apologizes for ‘Hurtful’ Jesus Tweets

    49ers Running Back Jarryd Hayne Apologizes for ‘Hurtful’ Jesus Tweets

    New 49ers running back and Australian rugby star Jarryd Hayne apologized on Wednesday for a tweet in which he raised the age-old myth that Jews were historically responsible for Jesus Christ’s death. Reaching out to his Jewish fans, and the chairman of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission, Hayne tweeted: “To the Jewish community @DvirAbramovich #WeAreAllOne.” Underneath, he keenly included a screenshot of a text message to elaborate on his apology: “I sincerely apologize for my tweets on July 1. I […]

    Read more →
  • Theater Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Recalls Being ‘Extremely Surprised’ at Winning Miss Israel Contest

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Recalls Being ‘Extremely Surprised’ at Winning Miss Israel Contest

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot reminisced about her childhood in Israel during an interview published in this month’s edition of Vanity Fair. “I don’t remember this, but my mom told me that when I was three they threw a party on the rooftop of the house. They put me to bed, and I heard people coming into the house and no one came to me. I went to the rooftop and took a hose and I started to spray water on everyone, just […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Wounded Israeli Soldiers Unite With American Veterans to Help Their ‘Brothers for Life’ Heal (INTERVIEW)

    Wounded Israeli Soldiers Unite With American Veterans to Help Their ‘Brothers for Life’ Heal (INTERVIEW)

    An Israeli organization is helping wounded U.S. veterans move past their physical and psychological challenges by connecting them with injured Israeli soldiers who understand what they’ve been through. “What we discovered very early is that there’s no ‘professional, psychiatrist, social worker’ or anything like that [or] pills that can come even close to helping a soldier who fought in combat, who was wounded, who lost his friends. No one can help him like another person who’s been through exactly what he has,” Rabbi Chaim Levine, […]

    Read more →