Grace: Who drops by? You call, you make a plan! You set it up weeks in advance and then you cancel it three times. Shouldn’t they leave you alone and give you some space out of respect for our situation? Isn’t that what we need right now?
Frankie: No. We need people who know what we need because we don’t. That’s why they’re called ‘friends’. I’m not sure that’s why they’re called ‘friends’. It’s a German word I think -- I can’t recall the origin. I took a course.
--Grace and Frankie
The dichotomy between Grace and Frankie’s response to the loss of their center, of their marriages, is well encapsulated in the traditional names given to the fourth book of the Torah: Bemidbar in Hebrew (In the Wilderness) and Numbers. Chaos and Accounting.
As the Israelites leave the comfort of the Mount Sinai encampment for the chaos of the Wilderness there must be some trepidation.
It seems ironic that a book named after the location of its setting, a wild place, begins with a census and directions for what tribes will encamp where in relation to the desert Sanctuary, the Mishkan. What formation they will create and in what order they will march when moving from site to site.
As any truly successful creative person will tell you -- musician, painter, writer -- some of the most cutting edge creativity comes from the emotional wilderness, comes from getting out of ones comfort zone, taking risks, pushing the envelope. At the same time, very little of value can be ventured without serious discipline of time and space. For the musician hours of practice. For the painter, much preparation, observation and often studies before a final work is created. Matisse’s large reclining “Pink Nude” took six months to create. The series of many studies lives in Baltimore but I saw it in Indianapolis recently. Proportions, sizing, composition are adjusted minutely from piece to piece until he finds just the right ratios. Writers often set specific hours each day and they will type or put pen to paper regardless of whether they ‘feel’ it or not.
It’s not that artists lack eureka moments. It’s simply that they are often preceded by hours, days, sometimes years of trial and error and failure and grueling, sometimes boring exertion. As Thomas Edison famously said, Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration.
Shabbat, at it’s best, is an essential component for the creation and maintenance of our souls. The rough and tumble of a work week provides opportunities for engaging the world. Shabbat, like B’midbar, is a structured weekly opportunity to engage the soul for creative and spiritual advancement with the accompaniment of good food, and time to savor it, good friends, present and available for long unstructured conversation, the elevation of prayer and study with set texts along with opportunities for musical and intellectual improvisation.
Not so much a taming of the wilderness but a structure within which one can safely be wild.