11 Ways to 'Create Space' in Judaism
Exploring what we can learn from the symbolism of Torah being presented to Jews in a desert, once upon a time.
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Within the galaxy of Jewish wisdom, one of my favorite stars is a fundamental question the Sages asked:
Why was Torah presented to Jews in the desert?
The answer: Because a desert is empty, symbolism for the need to create space for Torah.
In some circles, Torah gets a bad rap, perhaps because of its religious connotations. Those who don’t define themselves as religious or subscribe to religion might write it off. I used to be one of these people, until I finally understood the actuality of Torah.
“Torah isn’t a history book, a physics book, or a storybook,” the late, great Rabbi Noah Weinberg wrote. “Rather, it is Torat Chaim — literally ‘instructions for living.’ Every word, every phrase contains a message how to maximize pleasure in life. Look for the deeper message — the wisdom within — and you will reap immense rewards.”1
What’s more, the Hebrew word Torah is derived from the root ירה, which means “to guide” or “to teach.”2
The Challenges and Opportunities of ‘Creating Space’ in Modern Times
Nowadays, “creating space” is increasingly onerous, and I’m not just hinting at hoarders or collectors.
Digital marketing experts estimate that most people are exposed to as much as 10,000 different types of messages and communications each day.3 Our routine schedules are often packed from morning to night as we run from one activity to the next. And the smartphone and other such devices make downtime essentially nonexistent.
Yet, regularly “creating space” is paramount to meaning, purpose, accomplishment, relationships, and inner peace.
When J.K. Rowling was writing the final Harry Potter book, she checked into the Balmoral Hotel to escape the everyday distractions at her home. During the NBA playoffs, LeBron James has become notorious for “going dark” on social media — refraining from checking or posting to his accounts. And when Bill Gates wanted to come up with his next big idea, he went into seclusion for one-week “think week” retreats, from which family, friends, and Microsoft employees were uninvited.
The common thread in these stories from arguably the most successful people in each of their fields is that Rowling, James, and Gates consciously put themselves in an environment of distraction-free concentration — what Georgetown University professor Cal Newport calls “Deep Work” — so they could push their abilities to the limit.
Turns out, allowing our brains to wander rewards us greater problem-solving abilities, better ideas, and, potentially, important breakthroughs, according to Dr. Shimi Kang, a Vancouver-based psychiatrist.4
For instance, have you ever wondered why you seem to generate your best ideas in the shower? Especially if you’ve thought all day about a problem, jumping into the shower can turn into what scientists call the incubation period for your ideas. The subconscious mind has been working extremely hard to solve the problems you face and, now that you let your mind wander, it can surface and plant those ideas into your conscious mind.
Other activities that trigger this so-called incubation period are exercising, driving to an enjoyable place, listening to music, meditating, daydreaming, and being in nature. The common thread among all these activities is having a relaxed state-of-mind, which is important for creative insights.
In psychology, there’s a practice known as self-distancing — basically, creating “space” outside of your own self-centered perspective when assessing events you experience. Ethan Kross and Ozlem Ayduk, two notable U.S. psychology professors, call this: “making meaning from afar.”5
“When people experience negative events, they often try to understand their feelings to improve the way they feel,” according to Kross and Ayduk. “Although engaging in this meaning-making process leads people to feel better at times, it frequently breaks down leading people to ruminate and feel worse.”
More specifically, there are four types of self-distancing:
Social Distance — space between yourself and other people
Temporal Distance — space between the present and the future
Spatial Distance — your physical location and faraway places
Experiential Distance — imagining something and experiencing it
How to ‘Create Space’ in Judaism
Just as “creating space” is paramount to meaning, purpose, accomplishment, relationships, and inner peace in life, it can also be used as a tool for going deeper and wider with Judaism and Jewishness.
Here are 11 ways to do so: