Saturday, June 23, 2007

The goal is to chip away the external rough that covers the inner image

An accumulated jumble of thoughts and feelings that have gradually developed over the past several years led me to write this article. Jewish Musicism By: Doni Joszef Published: Friday, June 22, 2007
Like a progressively expanding snowball, this issue has come up over and over again—hardly acknowledged or explored. I, along with three other friends, have undertaken a music project that has evolved from occasional jamming in Pinny’s basement, to the production of an album. We are currently finishing the album, and hope to have it in stores by summer’s end. We have named ourselves PHP (if you want to know what it stands for, you’ll have to visit—not because we are trying to advertise ourselves; it’s just too intense to explain. You’ll understand when you see it!). This project has sort of formed itself—we never had in mind to produce an album; we were simply getting together for the sake of jamming lishma!
We met in Sh’or Yoshuv and our common love for improvisational music plunged us into an incredible journey of creative expression. Many of our songs were not premeditated; rather, they, came about naturally as we continued to jam. As we began to play for organizations such as Aish HaTorah and Rav Yeruchum Goldwasser’s kiruv retreats at the Danbury Lake, the project took on a life of its own. Throughout the band’s development, we were continuously faced with an identity crisis of sorts. Can our unique improv style fit the rigid mold of Jewish music? We were sure that our music stemmed from the soul. This we had no doubt about. It was just a matter of how to present this unique style to the community.
As time went on, we began to realize more and more how much the music meant to us and to the listeners who have expressed a yearning for a newer, fresher sound. We are looking forward to performing live this Monday at the Reads Lane Far Rockaway show with our good friend Nochi Krohn. Throughout the summer we will be performing at different gigs, including some evening ‘jam-sessions’ at Camp Morasha, Camp Mesorah, and Aish HaTorah’s “Metro Trips.” We also plan on visiting our PHP Cabin, an upstate lakeside cottage where we first began this project several summers ago. Visit us at for updates. As we eagerly await the release of the PHP debut album, the upcoming Reads Lane outdoor gig will give us an opportunity to share some of our improv jams and album tracks with the community...
In what way is Hashem’s art qualitatively different than human art? Why does the pasuk choose to reveal G-d’s ‘knack’ for creativity with the word tzur? To be honest, the second question has been bothering me for years. How does the word rock portray artistic expression? Seemingly, the rigid, stuck, unmovable image of a rock depicts anything but the free-flowing, independent, moving characteristics of the creative process!
Chazal (Megilah 14a) address the first issue directly by explaining the uniquely spiritual nature of G-d’s art: “Hakadosh Baruch Hu TZAR TZURAH BESOCH TZURAH, u’matil ba ruach, v’neshamah…”—whereas typical human art can etch an external image, G-d’s art involves a formation within a formation, infusing His creation with a soul, a spiritual element. The Divine spark of G-dly art is the art within the art. This means that the external portrait, song, or poem is only the shell of an inner art. As the Chovos Halevavos (see hakdamah) constantly emphasizes, life in this world exists in two realms—physicality and spirituality. We are meant to simultaneously elevate these two spheres of existence via the constant nisyonos (spiritual trials) that present themselves to us on a constant basis.
Thus, for art to be Divine rather than superficial, it must speak to these two elements of our selves. The tzurah besoch tzurah—art within the art—is what speaks to the soul. So, how exactly does an individual infuse this inner-soul-art within his work? This is the lesson of the tzur. There is a fundamental difference between a portrait and a sculpture. A typical painting involves a surface that becomes overlaid and covered by colors and designs. Not so with a sculpture. When a rock or stone is carved, the actual art exists within the structure. The goal is to chip away the external rough that covers the inner image. The outer stone is continuously sculpted until the remaining image is naturally revealed, uncovering the “diamond in the rough.” The beauty was there the entire time—the creative process was the artist’s means to access this inner spark.
This is a tzurah besoch tzurah—art within art. This can explain the usage of tzur—rock—to illustrate the unique quality of spiritual art. True soul-art entails a revelation of what dwells within the deepest essence of the individual. This is where Dovid HaMelech’s “musical poetry” stems from—mi’maamakim, from the innermost depths. What basis do I have for this rock-engraving thesis to define the sacred nature of creativity? I was wondering the same thing myself—until I realized… If Hashem’s creativity is the ultimate work of art, what was (is) His blueprint?’ The answer is, clearly, the Torah—as we know from the statement of Chazal, “Histakel B’Oraiysa u’Bara Alma.” Hashem looked into the heilegeh Torah as a blueprint for the epitome of all masterpieces.
The Torah stands upon two pillars: Torah Sheba’al Peh, and Torah Shebiksav (the Oral and Written Torah.) How interesting it is to note a profound correlation between these two pillars. Torah Shebiksav was presented as engraved stones ‘Luchos HaBris.’ Similarly, Chazal (Avos d’R’ Nosson, 6:2) tell us the incredible story of Rebbi Akiva, who was to be the pillar of Torah Sheba’al Peh. Rebbe Akiva was inspired by the discovery of an engraved stone—that had been pierced by continuous drops of water.

1 comment:

  1. Yo, I don't know who you are doni... but that dvar torah was hard core refreshing! It was such a spin on the depth of torah as an art form and not something stagnant... Now we just have to bring it out-- good luck to all of us! Peace out!