There is a concept in Judaism that we refer to as “hiddur mitzvah.” It literally means “beautifying the mitzvah.” This comes from Exodus 15, “This is my G-d and I will glorify him.” How wonderful to know that not only can we perform a mitzvah, doing some good in this world, but we can enhance that mitzvah by beautifying it. Yes, Judaism actually recognizes and even encourages integration of the arts into our daily lives, sanctifying our enjoyment of aesthetically pleasing landscapes, beautiful music and gastronomic delights, especially when participating in Jewish traditions and activities.
Each one of us is on this earth for a finite amount of time and every single moment of that time, is precious. It is up to us to surround ourselves with beauty as we construct our Jewish lives. Integrating the arts into our lives weaves together a rich tapestry of past, present and future traditions. We can participate in the arts as observers, aficionados, patrons, students or artists. Buy beautiful Shabbat candlesticks, personalize a Seder plate at a ceramic studio, embroider a challah cover, make your own menorah, or bake a delicious cheesecake for Shavuot. All of these are part of hiddur mitzvah—beautifying our world as we move through it, one precious Jewish moment and mitzvah at a time.
Sue Penn is the mother of three, Director of Congregational Learning at University Synagogue, president of Jewish Reconstructionist Educators of North America and a member of the Jewish Educators Assembly.