Dear Rachel,

How can fun and creative pursuits figure into a life of Torah? Since I’ve upped my religious commitment, I have been feeling guilty when I spend time playing or pursuing my creative hobbies. Does being Torah-observant mean living a stifling life?

Guilty at Pleasure

Dear Creative Force

Do you know that the bestselling book of all time, translated into the most languages, is the Bible? So the bestselling author of all time is G‑d. And isn’t the creation of the universe the most fantastic thing you’ve ever read?

When we create something, we can’t help but put part of our soul in it.The bestselling author of all time is G‑d Everything in the universe created by G‑d has a spark or element of the Divine in it, and thus every creation has some vestige of holiness in it.

G‑d tells us: “You shall be holy, for holy am I” (Vayikra 19:2). This is both a statement and an imperative—I am holy, you are part of Me, therefore you, too, are holy. But we must stay holy by infusing our lives with holiness.

A Jewish person’s role on Earth is to sanctify the material world by using it to serve G‑d. We are not ascetics. We pray, learn and do acts of kindness, but we can also enjoy good food, dance, sing, play games and engage in creative pursuits—and infuse these experiences with holiness.

We can eat gourmet food, especially on the Shabbat or holidays, but it has to be kosher, and we have to make the appropriate blessings on it. We can travel; there are even blessings to say on majestic mountains and awe-inspiring oceans. And we can engage in artisan crafts, business and the arts, as long as we do so according to Jewish law.

When the Jewish people built the Tabernacle in the desert—and later, the Temple in Jerusalem—artisans were hard at work to make sure that the Temple was artistically pleasing. In fact, the 39 activities prohibited on Shabbat are all linked to the creative work done in the Temple and included architecture, art, embroidery, painting and performing music.

There are many painters, musicians and authors who create to serve G‑d. Their art infuses more holiness into the world.

Everything you do is an opportunity to serve G‑d as only you can. Everything in life is connected to your spiritual growth (or can be). The beauty of Judaism is that we can sanctify each moment; we can serve G‑d anytime and anywhere—at work, at play, at rest. Every activity (or inactivity) can be a vehicle for serving G‑d, thereby elevating ourselves and the entire world.

ThatThe best nourishment for the soul is Torah-based being said, as you devote your life to coming closer to G‑d (upping your religious observance), you’ll find that you are less attracted to things that are less connected to a life of holiness. Our souls naturally crave closeness with their source, with G‑d, and the best nourishment for the souls is Torah-based, whether it’s science, music, art or literature.

G‑d is the Originator of the idea of a day off. You need to recharge your batteries by doing pleasurable activities. And many recreational centers accommodate the needs of religious women (separate swimming and women-only fitness classes).

Where is G‑d to be found? Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk said: “He is in the place where He is given entry.” In other words, you can partner with G‑d in everything you do.