Saturday, November 04, 2006

Lively Jewish Arts and Culture

Lively Jewish Arts and CultureThe Creative in the Universe/in Ourselves

The El Adon is an amazing prayer. Through it we not only see how God is actively a part of creation but we also see that creation has a power, strength, wonder, and beauty that is both connected to God and independent of God.

This shows that the creative force is extremely dynamic. It lives through us and through the universe. It motivates us and enthralls us. It takes us to heights of joy and to the depths of despair. It can be a force for good and evil. It has the ability to deepen our relationship to the world, to the universe, to each other, and to ourselves.

Creativity and the arts are inherent in the El Adon prayer. It starts out by declaring that God is the ruler of every element of Creation. It then goes on to declare that God’s attributes of Greatness, Goodness, Daat (Learning), Binah (Knowledge) surround Hodo (the Divine Paradigm).

Why juxtapose Creation with the attributes of God? This is critical in understanding the arts. Ma’asim B’reishit – the Acts of The Creation were and are the entire universe. They were the universe when it was formed out of nothing and they continue to be the universe, in fact they hold the universe together, and they bring God’s Divine Attributes to the universe/world.

Then the El Adon goes into an act of creative artistry itself by painting/singing through words (and melody since we sing this prayer) a picture/song of the going up to the heavenly throne by chariot and seeing the celestial beings/holy-lights. This picture is depicted with Beauty-Hadar, Kavod-Glory, Yashar-Dignity, Love and Infinite Love-Chesed and Rachamim.

It goes on in the picture/song to describe this even more. The picture is abundantly filled with Splendid Lights-Tovim M’Orot from God (bara elokeinu), imbued once again with Da’at, Binah, and Heskel – Enlightenment. All of this is very dynamic and passionate with Strength-Koach, and Might-G’vurah (also connected to the Divine Paradigm) and connected/intimately involved with the entire world.

Aesthetic qualities continue to be revealed – Full of Brilliance, Radiating Brightness, this Brightness is throughout the entire universe.

And then there is a shift in the text from the descriptive to a personification of the aesthetic qualities, giving them a life of their own. The qualities themselves have will, consciousness, and their own setting. They actually rejoice in their ascent. They exult in their own Paradigm (B’voam). Yet their connection to the ultimate Creator is not severed. The next line describes them as performing with reverence the will of the Creator. They are now full-fledged beings because they can give Glory and Honor (P'er v’Chavod) to God’s Name, they sing with Joyousness a Song in the Remembrance of God’s Majesty.

Then another shift occurs. The creation of the lights of the sun and the form of the moon are described in a voice that could be the voice of God or could be the voice of the actual aesthetic qualities. There is a tension (or is it a reality?) in the text that both points to a connection to God through the acts of creation and that creation itself exists on its own and creates the Acts of Creation. Is creation part of God or is it independent? Does a harmonizing of the universe and creation and the creative act as a life-force need to occur? Does art exist on its’ own? Is the goodness and the power of the creative force a shaping that must occur through the connection with God?

The El Adon doesn’t end here. It continues with a description of harmonization (wishful thinking?). The Heavenly Hosts offer Praises, Splendor, Grandeur, all coming from the Seraphim, the Ofanim and the Chayyaot HaKodesh – the Celestial Beings. Are they offering them to God or to the Creative Forces?

This beautiful, disturbing poem sends chills down one’s spine. It shows the power of creation and how art and creative forces can go in many directions. They can be forces for good, for connecting the universe -- an example is the sun and the moon and the other planets in their orbits. But can they also have a life of their own? Are they that powerful? The author seems to suggest that, nevertheless stating at the beginning that God is Lord, the Creator of All.

There is a haunting quality of this piece/prayer. It shows beauty, but behind it, it shows what can happen if creative forces and creative acts are independent. This brings up the questions “does disharmony or dissonance mean that things are out of balance” or “is dissonance sometimes a state to be desired?” Is tension and conflict necessary in art? Maybe that is also a message in this piece, that the tension behind beauty, the El Adon, is also an inherent aesthetic tension needed for works of art?

Therefore the goal of seeking harmonization cannot happen through blending because each attribute is distinct and specific. It must have distinct elements that work together but also work in opposition to itself and to the universe. The text even uses letters to depict the harmonization of the universe leading to the number seven which is the number of creation. Two luminaries are explicitly mentioned, the Sun-Shemesh and the Moon-L’vanah and then five planets are indicated through the words Shevach, Notnim, Kal Tzvah, Marom. The first letter of each of each of these words stands for five planets, Shvitai-Saturn, Nogah-Venus, Kochav-Mercury, Tzedek-Jupiter, M’Edom-Mars.

El Adon is a Shabbat piece. It isn’t sung on any other holiday. It has a revered place in the liturgy. The mystics of, what is called Chariot Mysticism or Merkavah Mysticism in the 7th Century, which depicted the Holy Descent/Ascent to God, wrote it. Elijah and Ezekiel are two of the figures whose lives and narratives describe Merkavah Mysticism.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting, thanks for posting!
you should publish this at

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