For the week of February 26, 2011 / 22 Adar 5771
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 35:1 - 38:20
Haftarah: 1 Melachim / 1 Kings 7:40-50

You Are an Artist

Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whom the LORD has put skill and intelligence to know how to do any work in the construction of the sanctuary shall work in accordance with all that the LORD has commanded. (Shemot / Exodus 36:1; ESV)

Years ago I was at a business meeting and the featured presentation was given by an art-oriented company. At some point during the meeting everyone attending was to introduce themselves and say something about their artistic ability. I was struck by how many people began by saying they weren't artistic, but loved gardening or were an engineer or software developer. Almost every person who seemed to be somewhat embarrassed by not being an artist in the classical sense of the word, clearly possessed some sort of creative ability.

As products of intentional creative design, human beings should expect to find all sorts of creative abilities within ourselves. From our first task as gardeners in Eden, people are called by God to creatively interact with our environment. We don't have to be painters, dancers, or musicians to be artistic. From parenting to building construction to assembly line work to management to even politics, life requires the ability of the artist to effectively perform the vast number of tasks we face throughout our lives.

This week's Torah portion helps us to understand our artistic ability according to God's design. God gave Moses detailed directions regarding the construction of the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle). The Mishkan was to be the central location for the sacrificial system for the people of Israel. As we read, the people who were to be involved in this project were the "craftsman in whom the LORD has put skill and intelligence to know how to do any work in the construction of the sanctuary."

The most important aspect regarding human artistic ability is that it comes from God. Believers in God may quickly agree, but do we really relate to our abilities this way? We may refer to our talents as "gifts", but do we really accept that they are fundamentally rooted in God and not in self? Do we relate to our abilities as if they have been bestowed upon us from our Heavenly Father? Or do we think of them (or the lack of them) as just the way we are? The Torah is clear: skill is something that God has put in us.

Once we grasp this, then we can begin to look at our artistic abilities as the gifts they are: gifts to treasure, gifts to care for. If our abilities have been entrusted to us by God, then it is easier to accept the second aspect that we find in what we read. The craftsmen were to "work in accordance with all that the LORD has commanded." The artistic abilities we have been given are not to be used in any way we like, but rather they are to serve the purposes of God.

So much of human creativity today is self expression. Being true to oneself and serving oneself in almost everything we do is our highest value. My abilities exist to serve my desires and my purposes. Even the reward of benefiting others is often expressed in terms of self gratification. And if my abilities make me lots of money, all the better!

This is so far from our Creator's perspective. God created us to be creative for his purposes. His directive to us to use that which he has entrusted to us within the confines of his will is not an expression of his own selfishness as if he is just like us only bigger. It's that for us to truly reflect the One in whose image we are made, we need to express our creativity with the same generosity, attitude of service and moral integrity as him.

A note to the artistically challenged: When we realize that creativity is truly a gift from God, we no longer need to accept our own (or others') view of our abilities. Just ask God, the Creative One, for his creative gifts. You may be pleasantly surprised at what you will discover he has put in you.

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