The Torah tells us (Exodus 35:31), “וַיְמַלֵּא אֹתוֹ, רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים, בְּחָכְמָה בִּתְבוּנָה וּבְדַעַת, וּבְכָל-מְלָאכָה – and God filled him (Bezalel) with wisdom, understanding and knowledge, in every area of creativity and art.” When the Jewish people were in the Desert, they needed to build a special building which required great beauty and craftsmanship. God himself had to “teach” Bezalel all the ways of art and craftsmanship (sort of like Neo in the Matrix, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vMO3XmNXe4, “I know kung fu”). From here, we can learn a valuable lesson, and a core Jewish value. Art and beauty are valuable and important things, they are things which are meant to be appreciated and things that we should appreciate. God gave us tremendous wisdom and knowledge as well as great skills, this is an awesome thing that we should appreciate.
So even art can be a way of connecting to God, as long as you look at it from the perspective that everything that we have is “uploaded” from God, it is an expression of his love for us.
Rav Kook elaborates in a number of places about the value of art:
“The true talent of a visual artist, when he is at the peak of his abilities – and especially one whose talent has been sanctified by the Spirit of G-d – is to be able to see the depths of existence, both in their physical and spiritual dimensions….
“All these things which are said generally of the Creator – as we value the wonders of the creative wisdom altogether, we must find a model in a wise and whole man devoted to purposeful creation. The highest and most blessed of all artists was Bezalel, who created with the Spirit of G-d. he completed a real picture, which demands a great wisdom of positioning the physical parts in it, positioning its lights and shadows, its buds and flowers, etc., the intention and extreme attention to detail to reach the essence of the purity of existence.”
Ein Ayah, Berachot, volume 2, p. 263, article 30.
What he is expressing to us here is a very deep idea, as we have discussed each and everyone of us is created in the image of God, we all resemble God in a special way. Rav Kook is telling as that through appreciating art, we can better appreciate the fact that we are created in God’s image and through this appreciate the majesty of the world that He created for us. Through appreciating the beauty that we create, we can better understand the beauty that God creates and how we are similar to Him in this regard.
So, today’s Jewish mission is to appreciate a piece of art, whether that means going to a gallery, museum or otherwise. Find a piece of art, and appreciate it for amazing beauty that it brings to the world and appreciate how that can make us better people, better Jews and closer to God. And then, if you feel inspired, try your hand at creating your own art, and express your Jewish Godliness!
“When I lived in London, I would visit the National Gallery, and the paintings that I loved the most were those of Rembrandt. In my opinion, Rembrandt was a saint. When I first saw Rembrandt’s paintings, they reminded me of the rabbinic statement about the creation of light. When G-d created the light, it was so strong and luminous that it was possible to see from one end of the world to the other. And G-d feared that the wicked would make use of it. What did He do? He secreted it for the righteous in the world to come. But from time to time, there are great men whom G-d blesses with a vision of the hidden light. I believe Rembrandt was one of them, and the light of his paintings is that light which G-d created on Genesis day.”
Rav Kook in an Interview, Jewish Chronicle, 9 September 1935