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The Music of Halacha: Defining Creativity

Most authorities agree that the defining quality of Melacha, the work that is prohibited on Shabbat, is creativity, an action similar to the creation of the world that ceased on Shabbat.

The issue with igniting a fire would be the creation of a new thing; the fire, as is the explanation of the Shulchan Aruch HaRav. (#495)

The creativity involved in extinguishing a flame is the creation of a coal from a peace of wood.

The issue with trapping an animal on Shabbat is that the person now has something new that he did not have before.

The problem with winnowing, sifting and selecting on Shabbat is, in each case, that I have a new preferred product after the work of separating the bad from the good.

However there is a dissenting opinion in each of the above examples. The Avnei Neizer (O”C #238) holds that the issue with igniting a flame is the causing something, in this case the wood, to cease to exist.

There are opinions in both Talmuds and among the authorities that the prohibition of extinguishing a flame is because you are causing the flame to cease to exist.

The Avnei Neizer and the Maharam argue whether the focus of trapping is that you have something new, an animal within reach, or, as argues the Avnei Neizer, removing the animal’s freedom.

How can the Avnei Neizer define creativity as causing something to cease to exist?

Some thinkers use an almost mystical approach to explain the Avnei Neizer. They explain that this world is called, “Olam,” which derives from ‘h’elem,” that which is hidden. That is to say, that when God created the physical world, He limited each creation’s spiritual essence by confining it to a physical form. What we describe as creation was actually an act of limiting or hiding. Thus, when we discuss the concept of creativity on Shabbat, we are discussing the creation of limitations.

The Avnei Neizer approaches the laws of Shabbat as a reminder that there is an element of “hiding” spiritual essence when we create something. We can understand this in a broad sense when we recall that one of the most basic struggles with our Yetzer Harah is, “Kochi v’otzem yadi,” “My strength and the might of my hand have done all this.” We begin to see ourselves as creators and can forget that creativity is a gift from God. Our “power” comes from God. Shabbat reminds us that creativity is tapping into God’s gift. We “hide” our own spiritual essence when we begin to believe that our power of creativity is ours.

And yet, not all creativity is forbidden on Shabbat. We emulate God’s highest creativity when we study Torah, perform Mitzvot with higher awareness, and pray. Is there not a risk of “hiding” even in such creativity?

The Halachot of Shabbat actually create an environment in which such creativity is not dangerous. As long as we pay attention to the Music of the Halacha, and reflect on the warning against hiding, we will be safe from having our spiritual creativity distract us from the Source of All Power.

It is only with the awareness of the great danger of “H’elem,” teaches the Avnei Neizer, that we are safe in pursuing the highest form of creativity that is possible only on Shabbat.

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