Rabbi Bere Wolf Kozhevnikov, rabbi of Yekatrinoslav over a century ago, told a parable:
Imagine yourself strolling through an art gallery. You find three people sitting on a bench before a large painting. One enthused, one annoyed, and the third in utter stillness, mesmerized.
So we’ll call them that: Enthused, Annoyed and Mesmerized.
You ask Enthused, “What’s so exciting? It’s just a painting of a bird in the forest.”
Enthused answers, “Just a painting? It’s magnificent! See how beautiful the artist made that bird! So realistic! So perfect in every way!”
Now you turn to Annoyed, and ask, “What’s so annoying? Isn’t it a beautiful painting? Look how lovely are the bird and the trees!”
Annoyed answers, “Beautiful shmutiful. Listen to me, I know the artist personally. The artist is a person of deep spirit, a sage in all ways, a master intellect who outshines all the great thinkers of our time. And for this such a great mind should be renowned? For a colorful painting of a silly little bird upon a tree?”
Fair enough. Now you turn to Mesmerized. “Excuse me! Ummm, Mr. Mesmerized, hello! HELLO!”
Finally, Mesmerized turns and stares at you, slowly coming back to this world. You say, “Really sorry to disturb you, but, you know, you really shouldn’t be so mesmerized with this painting. If you would know the artist, well, he’s a great philosopher, a deep thinker, and . . .”
“Yes,” Mesmerized interrupts, “I know the artist well. He is my teacher and mentor. And I am amazed how such a great mind has managed to fit all his genius into the details of such a simple scene of a bird upon a tree.”
Life In Art
We dwell within a living work of art, perhaps a symphony, or perhaps a dance, of uncountable parts.We dwell within a living work of art. Where do we find the Artist within His art?
Ask a scientist. He might say, “Look in the elegant mathematics of physics, in the rhythms and patterns that play throughout the universe. There is such order and harmony, we can reduce a massive universe to only half a page of calculus. An entire universe in such perfect, unified and elegant design!”
But ask a prophet and he will scoff at the scientist. “Is a composer judged by the skill of his counterpoint? Is a musician judged by the agility of his fingers? You count and measure and with this you claim to know wisdom? What tight box have you scientists made for the soul of the universe, a free soul in the most ultimate sense of freedom. The unknowable source of all being cannot be measured between your calipers.”
“Rather,” the prophet will say, “the Author of this universe can only be known by His miracles. For in them He displays that He is not bound to any pattern or mathematical law.”
Which is what people say: “If I would see an open miracle, then I would believe.”
But it is not true. If they would see the sea split, the dead come to life, the sun stop in its tracks, they would blink their eyes, shake their heads, and eventually get back to the same old life.
What you cannot comprehend, you do not see. It may as well have happened in a different world. It has nothing to do with you. So that miracles alone are not a path to knowing G‑d.
Life In Infinity
That is why, some 500 years ago, Rabbi Isaac Arama wrote that there is another way to perceive the infinite Creator.If we look with open eyes, we will discover the signature of an unknowable Creator within the knowable patterns of nature. If we look with open eyes, we will discover the signature of an unknowable Creator within the patterns of nature we know so well. We will see and we will comprehend the impossible.
And we have.
For one thing, we have found universal constants. Which is a great puzzle. Our universe is composed of finite parts, constantly moving, decaying and restructuring. How is it that in every part of the universe we observe, and for all of time that we can surmise, the gravitational constant remains the same, the ratio of light, energy and mass remains the same, along with several other mysterious numbers that never change in a universe defined by change?
Rabbi Arama would answer, “Aha! The signature of the Artist, an unchanging G‑d.”
Then there is infinite depth. Within the chao-complexity of nature, within the incessant throbbing of life ever-oscillating throughout this huge matrix of energy fields we call a universe, peering through our telescopes and microscopes, we gasp in wonder at the endless wisdom the Grand Artist has invested into the finite details of this place—so that any splotch of dirt contains enough information to keep a laboratory of scientists busy for eternity. Infinite information in every finite detail.
There are fractals within nature—symmetries that defy measurement, containing within themselves infinite depth. All matters at one time considered pure fantasy or hypothesis, today observed ubiquitously, even applied in technology.
Today, we are forced to recognize that almost all the numbers in the universe are irrational numbers. Numbers that cannot be stored—yet we can see them before us.
Long ago, the Mishnah said it, and Maimonides elucidated: Take a square of 50 square feet and tell me the length of its borders. You cannot—the number cannot be written. Just as pi cannot be written. Just as the square root of 2 cannot be written.
Before our eyes, we see and we understand that which can be neither said nor known.
Art, Life and Paradox
If Rabbi Arama were alive today, he would point to a cell of a living organism and say, “See the complexity of this single cell that scientists have only begun to fathom. A thousand factories at work with marvelous machines, all coordinated to work together with precision. See how it is even capable of healing itself—a miracle our logic tells us must be impossible. Yet more impossible—see how a system more complex than an entire metropolis can reproduce itself within only four hours!”
“Endless wisdom, infinite wisdom,” he would say, “packed within tight, finite packages.”
“It always bothers me,” said the legendary physicist, Richard Feynman, “that, according to the laws as we understand them today, it takes a computing machine an infinite number of logical operations to figure out what goes on in no matter how tiny a region of space, and no matter how tiny a region of time. How can all that be going on in that tiny space? Why should it take an infinite amount of logic to figure out what one tiny piece of space/time is going to do?”
“Yes,” answers Rabbi Arama, “the paradox of the infinite within the finite.”
And endless freedom. Yes, there are patterns—but patterns alone do not make beauty.
As Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogine points out, within every tidy pattern of nature we find unpredictable chaos. Within every symmetry of nature there is a Mona Lisa smile, something just slightly off tucked into the form of every leaf of every tree, every hair of every tiger, every cloud in the sky, every stream of water upon the earth.
The symmetry breaks itself, only so slightly so as to retain its symmetry, just enough to grant it beauty—so that you can look, look again, and again, and never cease to be surprised.
Life In Miracles
Thank you, Rabbi Arama. The Artist’s signature is there. Not just a deep artist, but an infinite Artist resides within the finite, the unchanging within constant change, chaos within order. And that is true beauty—beyond whatever any open miracle could provide.
And yet we have still not touched the Artist’s soul.Yet we have still not touched the Artist’s soul. He remains the Grand Architect of the universe that houses us. We stand in awe and wonder. But that is not enough. We want Him, the Artist Himself.
That, after all, is what the artist does—he plays not his instrument or his part, but his audience. He spills out his guts, so that you have all of him.
For that we must look in another place. For that we must look in the small miracles of daily life.
You’ve been there—many more times than you can remember. Those instances where by all predictions, there was no way out. Whether it was the doctors, the lawyers, the accountants, or the mother-in-law, all prognostics pointed in one direction, and it wasn’t a happy one.
And then, things unfolded, smoothly and seamlessly, so that the entirely unexpected occurred and all ends well.
No laws of nature were broken. Little, if anything, escaped its normal patterns. And yet, it was obvious that your life was managed directly by the Manager of all things, who gets whatever He wants, no matter what the situation. And He gets it without having to change a thing. Because He is everywhere, in both chaos and in order.
A Jew in his prayers thanks G‑d three times a day for “Your miracles and wonders with us each day.” The rabbis say that every day, miracles occur to us that are greater than the splitting of the Red Sea.
But we are blind to them. We see G‑d face-to-face countless times a day, and we are in denial. Cognitive dissonance blocks out the signal. We simply cannot accept the paradox, that in a natural, orderly world, its Creator is getting whatever He wants without disturbing a thing.
Life As An Artist
What is an artist? An artist is a free soul.
What is art? Art is a free soul expressing itself in finely-tuned, disciplined articulations.
That is why, in his art, the artist discovers himself—for he discovers that he is not a prisoner of his freedom.That is His act of love to us—to allow us to find Him within His art. He discovers a place within himself where freedom and discipline are not in conflict—they are one.
And that is beauty—a window on something so intimate, so essential to his very self, the artist himself was incapable of knowing it. Until he created his art.
Ask any true artist, “Who are you, really?” He will point to his art. Not so much the art itself, but the act of creating that art. And that is something you can only experience from the inside. As does the artist.
And so, the Grand Artist has placed us inside His art. That is His act of love to us—to allow us to find Him within His art. To find Him as He transcends all bounds, within the tightly bound drama of our everyday lives.
Now we grope in darkness. But we are creatures of a twilight just before the dawn. Soon, a new sun will rise, the darkness will vanish, and we will awaken to see with open eyes. And we will see that the Artist, in all His essence, was always there with us, carrying us through our journey. Not with our minds alone. The muscle, fat and bones of which our bodies are built will sense the infinite G‑d.
That, after all, is what the prophet Isaiah foresaw when he said, “All flesh shall see.”
The dawn is upon us. The sun will soon rise. Open your eyes, open them and see that everything is already here.