When pastry chef Christina Tosi was asked by Bon Appetit how she comes up with her off beat but insanely good desserts for Momofuku Milk Bar in New York, she answered “Limitations. Restrictions help with creativity. You have to learn to make something out of nothing. How creative can you get?”
In reading that last month, the immediate analogy that came to mind was Shabbat and the way that Shabbat provides freedom within structure. It finds expression in a mishnah from Pirkei Avot, “’And the tablets were the work of God, graven (harut) upon the tablets.’ Do not read harut (graven) but rather heirut (freedom), for no person is free except one who engages in the study of Torah.”
Using a clever wordplay (changing the vowels but keeping the letters) the Rabbis make a lovely drash that it is submitting to the law which gives real freedom.
People often ask me, “But what do you do all day on Shabbat?” I usually give them a variation of Chef Tosi’s response – restrictions help with creativity. We spend the day with friends, we read, we ride bikes, we play running bases, we build cities out of blocks, we eat delicious foods, we make an obstacle course out of couch cushions, we sing, we take a walk, we visit neighbors.
They are all things we could do any other day, but somehow the “restrictions” of Shabbat set us free to do the things that give us pleasure and bring meaning to our lives.