Art in Hebrew – omanut – has a semantic connection with emunah, faith or faithfulness. A true artist is faithful both to his materials and to the task, teaching us:
To see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour.
The name Bezalel means “in the shadow of God.” Art is the shadow cast by the radiance of God that suffuses all things: The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.
And as Goethe said: “Where there is much light, the shadow is deep.” When art lets us see the wonder of creation as God’s work and the human person as God’s image, it becomes a powerful part of the religious life – with one proviso. The Greeks believed in the holiness of beauty. Jews believe in hadrat kodesh, the beauty of holiness: not art for art’s sake but art as a disclosure of the ultimate artistry of the Creator. That is how omanut enhances emunah, how art adds wonder to faith.
Adapted from “Covenant & Conversation,” a collection of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s parshiyot hashavua essays, published by Maggid Books, an imprint of Koren Publishers Jerusalem (www.korenpub.com), in conjunction with the Orthodox Union.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth since 1991, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently “The Koren Sacks Rosh HaShana Mahzor” (Koren Publishers Jerusalem).