The Gift that Keeps….

Rabbi Ben Goldstein
May 5, 2014
Share:email print

I was not much a student in high school.[1] I did not like studying for tests or doing homework, nor did I particularly having to take classes which did not interest me. What I did relish, however, was the opportunity to be one of the “theater geeks,[2] to be on stage and performing in the school plays. I loved being up in front of an audience, making people laugh or cry, and generally being a “thespian.”  I was lucky; I got to do a number of shows, work with a many very talented people, and enjoyed myself immensely. So much so, that by the time I finished high school, I was seriously considering a career as an actor or playwright.

Now I’m going to take a little bit of a detour here and give you some insight into just how my brain works.[3] For as long as I can remember, I have lived my life based on the “Apocalypse Principle.” Don’t try to right-click[4] and search Google for the phrase; I don’t believe it actually exists in the annals of philosophical history. To my knowledge, it’s something that I made up. The principle is very simple. What if an apocalypse occurred right now and I was one of the survivors?

This principle has guided my life in many profound[5] ways. If the world as we know it was destroyed, or if the world was facing impending destruction, how would you live your final days, and what would your life be worth in the end?[6]  It’s because of this (somewhat pathological) question, that I thought that acting might not be the best career choice. When deciding who boards the ship or gets the last scraps of food, who are you going to give it to, the doctor, the engineer, or the actor?

As much as I’ve always loved acting, as much as I’ve always felt that creativity was a large part of my makeup, I never thought of it as anything noble. It always seemed to me to be a selfish, somewhat narcissistic pursuit. To a boy who grew up with the martyrific Jewish grandmothers that I did, the idea that I might have something of value to share with the world was simply abhorrent. Am I so brilliant, so profound, or so charismatic that people would listen to me recite other people’s words, or that they read my own? Never! Instead, one should live one’s life in service of others[7] in the most humble way possible. Youshould never merely accept a compliment, but rather deflect or shoo it away.

From grade school throughout college, writing was my release. It was anexercise in catharsis and creativity. I was never able to rid myself of this desire to put my creativity to use. Years would pass; I would go to a conservatory to study acting, drop out of the program, and then move to Los Angeles to pursue a career as an actor.[8]  Despite what I was brought up to believe, the idea of putting my creativity to work has always made sense to me.

Aye, there’s the rub.

It took me many long years to shake this idea that creativity was anything other than selfish. It wasn’t until I came across a book called The Artist’s Way[9] that I was able to see creativity for what it truly is; a gift from God. In it, Julia Cameron writes, “Creativity is God’s gift to us. Using our creativity is our gift back to God.”

The idea that creativity was not a selfish endeavor, but a gift from God, changed my life. To me, it still sounds a bit narcissistic, but this realization has also allowed me to see it as a gift. While I am not acting anymore,[10]I still watch television and films as an actor, and I still find time to write.

God’s transmission of holiness and blessing is not limited to text studies, intellectual pursuits, or prayer. It’s time that we widen the broadband of spirituality. Each person accesses their spirituality in a different way. For some it’s prayer or meditation, while for others it’s hiking or being in nature. I have found spirituality in all of those places, but for me, it is when I sit down to write that I truly feel that my soul is being engaged. If you read a lot of modern day rabbis,[11] you see that when they talk about their view of Judaism, they use the phrase, “my Torah.” This is to say that their view and their sense of Judaism is personal and might be different from someone else’s. I find that through writing, I can share my truth with the world; I can share “my Torah.” Whether it’s writing a sermon, writing these monthly blogs, or writing fiction, when I am engaged in this creative process, I feel that I am able to share a piece of my soul with the world.[12]

For me it’s writing, for others it’s dancing, or painting or songwriting. Spirituality can found through art, and the enjoyment of that art. We’ve all had moments when a painting or a piece of music has touched our souls. It’s that haunting violin solo that moves us to tears, or the Renior painting that calms our spirits. Yes, we’ve always known that art and creativity can be a profound source of spirituality. That’s the reason that the melody of the Kol Nidre can still give us goose bumps, because it was created as an expression of that same spirituality we feel whenever we hear it. Spirituality is all around us, we are blessed to be able to experience and be moved by the art that others have created. Now it’s up to us to accept that spirituality can be found in the art that we create ourselves.


[1] This is a bit of an understatement. My final high school GPA was….well, let’s just say it was not good.

[2] I don’t know that I was ever a fully-fledged “theater geek.” I was actually even on the outside of that clique.

[3] WARNING: Danger Ahead!

[4] Or do whatever you Mac owners do.

[5] And shallow

[6] It’s for this reason that the philosophical school of Utilitarianism has always fascinated, and appealed to me.

[7] AKA doctor or lawyer

[8] It did not go well, unless you’re a big fan of the Jewxploitation classic, “Jewz N’ the Hood.”

[9] Julia Cameron The Artists Way J.P. Tarcher/Putnam (1992)

[10] Much to my sadness.

[11] And God help you if you do

[12] Author’s note: I am reading this as I write, and if the 23 year old me saw this last sentence, he would be appalled that I could be so “woo-woo,” or touchy-feely.

Share:email print
Related Topics:

Rabbi Ben Goldstein was ordained from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in May of 2010. Since that time he has been working as the rabbi for a congregation in suburban New Jersey (yes, that’s right, I said New Jersey). He has been watching television and movies ever since he was old enough to have the core strength to sit up without falling over. Goldstein's love for the performing arts led him to pursue it as a career and he even managed to star in such cinematic triumphs as Jewz N The Hood. After a number of Signs from our Creator (and more than a few casting directors) he realized that actors don’t take themselves nearly serious enough so he needed to find something else to do. Taking a look at the job description of a rabbi (writer, counselor, teacher, performer, student) he thought it sounded like a really great way to spend his life. In addition to being trained as a rabbi, Goldstein has an encyclopedic knowledge of television and movies from the mid-80s to today. That makes him either a fantastic Jeopardy contestant or the world’s most boring cocktail party guest. You can reach Rabbi Goldstein at

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published.


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>