Feb 15, 2010

What to do with Gifts from G-d

In a chapter on talents, Rabbi YY Rubinstein tells of a rosh yeshiva who had displayed a phenemonal talent for art when a child.  The question was asked, "If Hashem has given you such a gift, isn't it a pity that you don't use it anymore?"

The rosh yeshiva answered, "I see symmetry in the Gemara's argument."

R' Rubinstein also tells of one of his own rebbes who was offered a place at Cambridge University because he was such a gifted mathematician and of a well-known rosh yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael who displayed a tremendous talent for chess as a child, so great that he could have easily played at the international level.  He says that no doubt, his rebbe would see logic and structure in the Torah and the rosh yeshiva woudl anticipate the "next move" of a talmid challenging his argument in a shiur.

A close friend of his is a maggid shiur who, long ago, played the flute in the Boston Symphony Orchestra.  When he asked whether the maggid shiur has time to play anymore, the answer was that sometimes he takes time out for relaxation.  In his shiurim though, he often uses music to illustrate a point and make a difficult idea comprehensible.

R' Rubinstein concludes, "The violinist can create a symphony with Torah and the artist can paint the Talmud's pictures (metaphorically) so that thousands can see and appreciate them for the first time.

It doesn't sound right to me.  A potential artist who instead of using the gift Hashem gave him, sees symmetry in the Gemara? I have no idea what that means and what it has to do with his artistic gift which is presumably for drawing.  I can see it more clearly with the mathematician and chess player because in using their brains for Torah study, they are using their gift.  After all, a brilliant person can't use his brains for everything: math, medicine, economics, chess etc. But talents like art and music?

The Midrash (Pesikta Rabasi 25) says that during the times of the Bais HaMikdash, there was a man named Navos who had a very beautiful voice. On Yamim Tovim, when everyone gathered in Yerushalayim, thousands would gather to hear him daven. One year, Navos decided he couldn’t be bothered to come, despite the disappointment of his admirers. Shortly afterwards he was killed and his land confiscated (see Melachim/Kings I 21).

The commentators explain that Navos’ error was that he thought his melodious voice was his gift – to use or not use as he pleased – when in fact it’s ‘on loan’ from HaShem to use in ways that increase His honor and bring pleasure and joy to others. Since he misappropriated his ‘property,’ he had his property taken away from him.  If we don't use our gifts, we will be held accountable, in this world or the next.

So what should we do with children who exhibit gifts for art, music, and working with their hands? If they are boys, many parents are reluctant to cultivate those gifts lest that be a distraction from the child's fulltime Torah study.  I think that if a boy displays a passion for something, not just a passing fancy, that might be a sign from Heaven that he needs to channel it l'kavod shomayim and not ignore it.  Consulting with a wise person is imperative.

1 comment:

  1. I agree, of course wise counsel should be sought! Gifts should be channeled and developed under the auspices of Torah & with the counsel of our wise ones.