(Adapted from Creativity without Bounds by Rochel Holzkenner)
This week we read the last parshiyot of the book of Exodus. The Jewish people were called upon to donate both their time and talents to help build the Mishkan. In Judaism, we believe that we use the heart and the soul to express our talents or creativity. Each soul has a unique mission and is endowed with custom designed tools for the task. It is part of our own individual challenge to become aware of our soul and its mission.
The women who traveled with Moses in the desert had this “soul-awareness”. When Moses lists the contributions that the Jews made to the Tabernacle, he mentions amongst them the contributions of the women, who wove exquisite fabrics for the Tabernacle’s curtains. These women viewed their creative expression as part of their service to G‑d.
“All the women whose hearts inspired them with wisdom spun the goats” (Exodus 35:26).
Why does the Torah say that they “spun the goats”? Why not say that they spun the goats’ hair, the fleece? Based on this unusual expression, the Talmud explains that they used a unique technique to spin the goats’ hair.
“This was an extraordinary craftsmanship, for they would spin them from the fleece on the back of the goat [before it was shorn]” (Shabbat 74b).
Why did the women go out of their way to spin the fleece while it was still growing on the goat’s back? The Sforno, a 16th-century Italian rabbi and philosopher, explains that goats’ hair loses much of its luster once it’s sheared; by combing and spinning the hair while it was still growing, the women made it retain its luster. G‑d hadn’t told them to spin the fleece for the curtains this way. Out of their own sense of beauty, they designed the curtains in the most creative way, in order to beautify the Sanctuary.
This was an example of “chochmat lev”, the wisdom of the heart/soul displayed by these women. They viewed the making of the curtains as such an important and holy part of the process that they used their ingenuity and creativity to find a new way of weaving the hair of the goats.
This past week Jennifer and I had the opportunity to spend time with over 1000 Jewish educators from all over North America. Creativity and wisdom in Jewish education were being met head on at this conference. We had the chance to speak to people who had similar issues and concerns about education and about the future challenges of the Jewish people. We exchanged information and innovative ideas with one another. We listened and we tried to open our hearts and minds up to new inventive and out of the box ideas which we can use to meet the needs of educating our children for the next century. Like the women of our parsha, we hope to “spin” our educational goals with ongoing inspiration, and to continue to engage our students with a vibrant and living Judaism.