Jewish Studio Project's Foundational Beliefs

Jewish Studio Project (JSP) activates creativity in individuals and communities to make life more meaningful, our tradition more vibrant and the world more just.

JSP’s work is founded on five foundational beliefs:

בצלם אלקים B’tzelem Elohim: We are Created to Create

The Torah opens with three words, “B’resheit bara Elohim” - in the beginning, God created.

(א) בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ׃

(1) In the beginning, God created.

God’s first act is one of creativity. The Divine is, first and foremost, a creator.

(כז) וַיִּבְרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים ׀ אֶת־הָֽאָדָם֙ בְּצַלְמ֔וֹ בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱלֹהִ֖ים בָּרָ֣א אֹת֑וֹ זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בָּרָ֥א אֹתָֽם׃

(27) And God created man in God's image, in God's image, God created him; male and female God created them.

God is the creative force of the universe, and human beings are made in the Divine image; therefore, human beings are created as creators. Each and every one of us is endowed with creative capacity, simply by being human. Accessing and activating our creativity is how we partner with God in the ongoing work of creation.

תוהו ובוהו Tohu Va’Vohu: Creation Comes from Chaos and Void

Often when we consider the creation of the world, we imagine it as creation ex-nihilo - out of nothing. Yet, in Genesis we read that the earth was “tohu va’vohu” (“chaos and void”) before God’s creative process even began.

(ב) וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ וְחֹ֖שֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י תְה֑וֹם וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם׃

(2) the earth being chaos and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water—

In the creation of the world, chaos and void are the raw materials of Creation. God digs into chaos and void and transforms these elements into land, stars, animals and human beings. Within each one of us there exists some amount of chaos and void. We may experience these elements as frightening and wish to avoid them when, in fact, they are precious materials awaiting transformation. Just as God transforms the “tohu va’vohu” of the world, so too are each of us invited to delve into the chaos and void within ourselves and to transform what we find through the sacred process of creating.

לך לך Lech L’cha: We are Called to Journey into the Unknown

In Genesis, God calls out to Abraham, beckoning him forth on a journey from his land, his birthplace and his parents’ house to a land that God will show him.

(א) וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהוָה֙ אֶל־אַבְרָ֔ם לֶךְ־לְךָ֛ מֵאַרְצְךָ֥ וּמִמּֽוֹלַדְתְּךָ֖ וּמִבֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ אֶל־הָאָ֖רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַרְאֶֽךָּ׃ (ב) וְאֶֽעֶשְׂךָ֙ לְג֣וֹי גָּד֔וֹל וַאֲבָ֣רֶכְךָ֔ וַאֲגַדְּלָ֖ה שְׁמֶ֑ךָ וֶהְיֵ֖ה בְּרָכָֽה׃

(1) ADONAI said to Avram, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. (2) I will make of you a great nation, And I will bless you; I will make your name great, And you shall be a blessing.

God’s call is “lech l’cha”. In Hebrew, “lech” is the command “go!” Many commentators throughout the generations have noted that this would have been enough, simply saying “lech!”, “go!” Yet the phrase is “lech l’cha”. In Hebrew “l’cha” means “to you, to yourself.” Abrahram is asked to go forth not just physically, but spiritually as well. He is called to journey into the unknown of the world and into the unknown parts of himself. In so doing, God promises he will become a blessing. Tradition teaches that every one of us can see ourselves as Abraham - continually called forth with the words “lech l’cha.” Creative process is a vital tool for our journey. Working with the unknown of what emerges on our canvas helps us develop the capacity to navigate the unknown of our lives. By venturing into the unknown we have the opportunity to be surprised, align with our truth, connect to the Divine and bring something new into the world.

אהיה אשר אהיה Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh: God is Process

In Jewish sacred texts, God is called by many names including: צור Tzur (Rock), שומר Shomer (Guardian), רחם Rechem (Womb), מלך Melech (King), אדוני Adonai (Lord), מגן Magen (Shield) — all are limited approximations of God’s infinite being. The Torah describes an intimate exchange between God and Moses. Here, Moses asks God how he should identify God to the people.

(יד) וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֱלֹהִים֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה וַיֹּ֗אמֶר כֹּ֤ה תֹאמַר֙ לִבְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה שְׁלָחַ֥נִי אֲלֵיכֶֽם׃
(14) And God said to Moses, “Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh.” He continued, “Thus shall you say to the Israelites, ‘Ehyeh sent me to you.’”

In this one-on-one conversation next to the burning bush, Moses asks God: “When I come to the Israelites and say that You sent me, what should I tell them Your name is?” God answers: “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” (“I shall be that which I shall be”). This name is how God self-identifies: not as person, nor as place, but as process. God is process, God is in process, and together with God, we transform that which is into that which will be.

הפוך בה Hafoch Bah: We Continually Ask - What Else Could this Be?

In the mishnah - the first compendium of rabbinic commentary redacted nearly 2,000 years ago - quotes the phrase, “Hafoch bah v’hafoch bah, d’kula bah, “Turn it and turn it for everything is in it”.

(כב) בֶּן בַּג בַּג אוֹמֵר, הֲפֹךְ בָּהּ וַהֲפֹךְ בָּהּ, דְּכֹלָּא בָהּ.

(22) Ben Bag Bag said: Turn it and turn it for everything is in it.

In this context, the “it” being spoken of is Torah. “Hafoch bah” can be understood as an instruction not only for how we are meant to orient ourselves to Torah, but also for how we might approach our lives and our relationships. Just as Torah is complex and multilayered, each one of us contains multitudes. How might our life, our work, our identity, our relationships, our art, our work, change as we continuously ask the question embedded in the phrase “Hafoch bah” - “What else could this be?