Creativity and Individuality

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R. Mordechai Willig on this week’s Torah portion:

The creativity of thought exhibited by the nesi’im serves as a model for the sublimation of the irrepressible human creative spirit for the service of Hashem. It is not necessary to deviate one iota from a specific and complex halachic norm, such as the divinely mandated nasi offering, to be innovative and individualistic…

The Medrash (1:3) likens the flags to those of the angels. Am Yisroel yearned to have flags like the angels, and Hashem provided them so that each shevet should be individually recognizable like the angels. Each angel has a particular mission. Each member and shevet yearned for individuality and creativity in avodas Hashem, just as angels have individual missions. Hashem acceded to the request and confirmed the legitimacy of the motivation – k’dei sheyihyu nikarim, so that each person and group be recognizable.

However, such creative license and individuality is permissible, and even laudable, only for one whose sense of mission reflects that of the angels. They all accept the Kingdom of Heaven, and view their respective roles as critical to the fulfillment of the divine mandate and the sanctification of Hashem. Their words and deeds are unadulterated by ulterior motives.

Indeed there are many legitimate paths in the service of Hashem. The shevatim thought, and later acted, differently. Mutual respect for others whose way of Avodas Hashem differs from one’s own is critical (see Meishiv Davar I, 44). The fundamentals of belief, reverence for Torah texts and personalities, and strict observance of halacha must serve as the unifying forces for a multifaceted community.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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