[Mi Yodeia, the Jewish Q&A website, is having a Launch Party on Sunday; mazal tov!]
Over the past week, I've been mulling three different models for creativity in Judaism:
Keep it Inside
This was the approach of the Nesiim, the heads of each tribe, in the offerings they brought for the dedication of the Mishkan (Bamidbar 7). Each brought the same material gifts, from the vessels made of precious metals to the flour to the incense to the animals – but Ramban (Bamidbar 7:2) wrote that each personalized it with his intent in bringing the various aspects of the gift.
The outward mitzvot were all the same, but each person's intent was creative and unique.
Make it Your Own
Rambam (Hilchot Avel 14:1) writes that the various ways we help each other (visiting the sick, comforting mourners, gladdening a bride and groom and so on) are all manifestations of the biblical "Love your neighbour" command, but the Torah did not include them as specific biblical instructions. The biblical mitzvah is simply to engage in actions which manifest love for each other, and then the Sages outlined various ways to do it - a list to which we still add.
It seems that chesed, the act of helping others, is a case in which the internal intent is the same, and the outward manifestations are creative and unique.
And then we have a third model: Tzitzit. The strings have a pre-determined length and [to a certain extent] colour and set of knots and wrappings, and the garment must have a certain number of corners. On the other hand, the garment may be any colour, almost any size, any pattern, and any type of woven material (although there seems to be a biblical preference for wool or linen). And the meaning is the somewhat specific awareness of Gd and the Torah, but that, too, leaves considerable room for personalization.
There is room for variety in the execution, and in the intent.
Which is it? Can we define an ideal level of creativity in Judaism? All of them, presumably, apply at different times. The trick is in figuring out which to apply, and when.