Creativity: Creating the Self

(Tenth in a series summarizing the book Halachic Man)

The idea of creativity in halacha is most manifest in four areas: a) teshuvah (the religious imperative to change one’s ways for the better) b) divine providence c) prophecy and d) choice

Self-Creation

The concept of teshuvah includes admitting wrongdoing, regret for the past and resolve for the future. It’s broader than only changing specific behaviors. Along with the behavioral change is a new consciousness, new motivation and in short a new identity. Self-creation is seen as the ultimate creative act.

Time Concept

In linear time the past is gone. The future is not here yet. All we have is the present moment. This conception affects our feelings about past mistakes and about what we’re capable of changing.
Time is usually conceived as linear. The past determines present behavior in a process of cause-and-effect similar to natural law.

This perspective is problematic. A person assumes he cannot change his past behavior because the same forces that caused this behavior in the past continue to be a determining factor now. If time runs in a straight line from past to present he is enslaved to the law of cause and effect. Determinism is diametrically opposed to self-creation/teshuvah.

Halachic Man has a different view of time. The past and future are reflected in the present moment. Instead of afflicting himself over past mistakes he creates a new self.

Bringing Past into Present

Paths that start out badly can end up good and paths that start out good can end up badly. By looking retroactively at the past a person can reconstruct the process leading up to the present and see it as a positive process. An unfortunate experience or mistake of the past can be used to build strengths and sensitivities in life. Having done something hurtful to self or others gives birth to learning how to avoid that in the future. The past can be taken advantage of to use for worthwhile goals. The path was a good one after all.

This reconstruction of the past is an important factor in the healing process of logotherapy as well. This is not to trivialize the suffering. Some of life’s lessons are very painful. Personally my painful lessons make me want to shout: “Okay, I learned my lesson! Now can I have my (fill in the blank of whatever was lost as a result of the mistake…) back!!?” That belongs to the stuff we can’t change. We need to mourn but we can’t use that as an excuse not to change what we do have the power to change.

The concept of memory in Judaism is another aspect of bringing past into present consciousness. For example the exodus from Egypt is not commemorated as a “past” event. Halacha says that on Passover eve every person must see him or herself as if he personally was a slave freed from ancient Egypt.

Bringing Future into Present

The future vision clarifies the present. It provides direction, explains tendencies, defines and redefines aims. The cause is buried in the past but the direction that past event takes as life unfolds is determined by the future vision.

A person can distinguish what has come into being and what is not yet born, or as Frankl says the tension between what is and what ought to be that motivates the person towards positive change. The basis for this creative process is choice.

The future stretches even further when the individual sees himself within the context of his people and ultimately of the world. A few years ago one logotherapy student visited the residents of Sderot a town in the south of Israel at a time when rockets were constantly raining on them from Gaza. She described them as very jittery, sitting on the edge of their chairs, ready to run for a shelter at a moment’s notice.

She gave them each a piece of paper and said, “Make a line and draw when you were born and (a guess of) when you will die.” They did that. “Now draw a line showing a past going back to creation and to the birth of the Jewish nation, and ending at the end of days when the world will be as one. Your life is not just your individual, personal life. You are part of a process leading towards peace, even though you can’t yet see how. You are an important player in this unfolding process!” This gave them comfort.

The Eternal Moment

Just as sanctity is manifest within the material world through human action similarly there is no concept of eternity without the concept of time. Therefore Halacha pays close attention to time.There is a time to pray in the morning and a time to rest on the Sabbath. There is a right time and a wrong time to sit in the Succah. Everything is measured very precisely. The gateway to the infinite is through finite time.

The choice is before a person: Will he believe in time as something fleeting or eternal? The answer to that question will make a difference to his orientation towards personal change.

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