Deconstruction at Its Best
Everyone understands that it’s always
best to solve a problem at its root rather than merely address
its symptoms. Why then is it so difficult to cut to the
core of a dilemma and see beyond its secondary effects?
The one word answer is: Subjectivity. Once
we are faced with a challenge, our own biases, comfort zones
and blind spots distort our vision and we only see the outer
manifestations rather than the underlying causes. “A
person,” the Sages tell us, “can see all blemishes
except his own.”
Preventive medicine is always better than
symptomatic medicine. Yet once a problem settles in the
problem itself seems to hide its own personality, and we
no longer are objective enough (and sometimes become too
busy) to step back and search for the underlying forces
that give the problem life.
But, using Talmudic style logic, what lies
behind our bias? Bias doesn’t allow us to see the
root, but what is the root of our bias? Why should we be
unable to see the origins of a problem, especially if seeing
it is in our own self interest?
In one word (I am in a ďone wordĒ mood today)
the answer is: Duality. The Kabbalists call the root: Tzimtzum.
We do not live in a WYSWYG seamless universe.
What you see is not what you get. In this two-faced world
(or even worse: multi-faced plurality) surface symptoms
can conceal and belie what lies within.
If life would be one seamless flow, even if
we were uncomfortable (but then again, in a seamless universe
we wouldn’t be uncomfortable), we would always be
able to recognize the cause of a problem and solve it at
its point of departure. No different than, say, seeing the
source of a leak and plugging it in time before it causes
However in our duplicitous world, once we
wander away from the course, we cannot see backwards or
within and simply retrace our steps; something blocks our
vision and it gets increasingly difficult to return to the
source. No one gets lost in a vacuum or in a moment. You
initially veer off base just by an inch or two. But as you
continue to travel in the wrong direction that inch turns
This may be the reason why it’s so vital
to study history and understand how we got here in the first
place. The present is always a product of the past, and
the future of tomorrow cannot be understood without traveling
back to yesterday. Fruits are borne by deep roots.
Could this be why the Bible is the number
one best seller, beyond any charts? The story of Adam and
Eve’s fall in the Garden of Eden, for instance, is
the first documented description of temptation. Indeed,
the mystics see this episode as the first loss of innocence,
which set in motion a chain of events that would shape all
human failings till this very day.
Abraham, in this weeks Torah chapter, is the
first deconstructionist, who actually retraced the steps
of human bias (to put it mildly) and its resultant consequences.
Faced with a self involved pagan world, Abraham early on,
recognized the short sightedness of the society around him
and began a search – a search that would lead him
to profound truths and unprecedented heights, and ultimately
to father a revolution that would affect all nations until
In a dramatic study of deconstruction (the
first of its nature in history) Maimonides opens up his
Laws of Idolatry with a fascinating account of social devolution
from a universe experienced as a seamless Divine creation
to a narcissistic profane society.
Maimonidesí analysis in sum goes like this:
Originally the universe was seamlessly connected to its
Creator, G-d. Everyone understood that the Divine was the
only Source of existence. Since G-d is invisible, as time
passed, social perception changed. Maimonides delineates
three stages in this downward spiral.
The first stage happened in the time of Enosh
(grandson of Adam and Eve). “The people made a grave
mistake, and the scholars of that generation erred.”
They speculated that since G-d created heavenly bodies through
which He guides the world and placed them on high and gave
them honor as His servants, it would only be appropriate
that man praise, glorify and honor them as well.
Initially, at this stage, people knew that
the one G-d was the only G-d, and they understood that the
heavenly bodies had no power of their own. Their mistake
was that they believed that G-d intended the heavenly bodies
to be served. They then constructed temples for these celestial
bodies and brought offerings to honor them, mistakenly thinking
that this was G-d’s will and honor.
After many years this devolved into stage
two. False prophets arose and claimed that G-d told them
to worship the power associated with a particular celestial
body and to bring offerings to these stars. They fashioned
a figure which they claimed was symbolic of that particular
star, which men, women and children should worship. Slowly
an “industry” sprung up offering all forms of
objects that these false prophets fabricated in their imaginations.
These objects could be found everywhere – in temples,
under trees and atop of hills and mountains. People would
gather and worship these images in the false belief that
they could improve or hurt their lives, and therefore are
worthy to worship and fear. Other exploiters began to claim
that the stars themselves (not G-d) communicated with them
to serve them in different ways.
Slowly this way of thinking became the “norm”
and spread to the entire population of the world, to serve
these images with various forms of worship and offerings.
Polytheism was born.
Stage three then became manifest, as the devolution
hit a new bottom. As this “norm” took hold with
the passing of time, G-d’s name became forgotten amongst
the masses. They no longer perceived or recognized G-d’s
existence. At this point men, women and children knew only
of wooden and stone figures and the temples of stone in
which they were educated from childhood to worship, serve
and swear by. And their leaders perpetuated this illusion.
No person was aware of G-d, the Cosmic architect, except
for a few individuals like Chanoch, Metushelach, Noach,
Shem and Ever.
And this is how life continued. “In
this fashion,” Maimonides writes, “society continued
to spiral and plummet, until the birth of the global pillar
Maimonides then goes on to movingly describe,
in poetic language, how Abraham from young age came to realize
that his society was deeply mistaken. Surrounded completely
by a pagan culture, with no teachers and mentors, Abraham
began to wonder what moves the celestial bodies. They could
not be moving themselves. Slowly, this giant came to realize
that which was known at the beginning – before the
distortions spiraled out of control – that within
all of existence lays G-d, One unified Entity, which created
and controls the entire mechanism.
As his understanding evolved, Abraham began
to discuss these ideas and address the prevalent beliefs
of his community. He argued and called upon them to destroy
their idols and recognize the true G-d – the only
One worthy of worship. Obviously he upset many, especially
in the establishment. As Abraham became more persuasive
and influential, the leader of the time tried to have him
killed, but he was miraculously saved and moved to Charan.
He began to travel from city to city, nation to nation,
and gathered people and taught them. He called upon them
to recognize the one G-d. As people gathered around him
with their questions, Abraham taught them each according
to his understanding, until they came to realize the fundamental
Divine truth. Abraham succeeded to build a community of
tens of thousands of people who learned to get beyond the
symptoms – and circumstances – of their time
and discover the roots where it all began before the distortion
of the Enosh generation.
Abraham then passed on this understanding
to his son Isaac, who transmitted it to Jacob, who in turn
passed it on to his children, all the way to Moses. And
from there these truths were passed on to all generations
Much can be gleaned from the social decline
beginning with Enosh, and from the trend reversal initiated
by the first non-conformist Abraham.
Perhaps the biggest lesson of all is this:
The problem the people had then was that they wanted a relationship
with G-d. Every child wants a connection with its parent.
Every creature wants to feel attached to its Maker. On the
other hand, people also have their more selfish inclinations.
They want things on a platter – on their own terms.
These two factors – the search for an invisible G-d
coupled with our own materialistic selfishness – create
the breeding ground for replacing G-d with something closer
to us, on our terms.
Initially, the process began rather innocently.
No one was replacing G-d; they were simply honoring G-d
servants – the celestial bodies, and in doing so,
they felt that they were honoring G-d. Innocuous enough.
But it was grave mistake. No tragedy begins in a moment.
A small shift today becomes a disaster tomorrow. The fundamental,
qualitative shift was the erroneous need to experience G-d
on human terms.
As stated, G-dís invisibility provoked people
to search for something more visible. And precisely therein
lays the problem. For G-d to be true and have any meaning,
for us to discover true transcendence, we cannot in any
way create a G-d on our terms. That defeats
its entire purpose. We were created in the Divine Image,
not the other way around. Our challenge is to rise above
our finite mortality, our flaws and subjectivity, and embrace
G-d on G-dís terms.
Perhaps this is exactly why G-d must
be invisible to our mortal eyes.
Once Enosh and his generation gravely erred
and began worshiping something outside of G-d, something
that was part of us, part of our created universe, then
it was just a matter of time until the process would spiral
out of control and people would forget about G-d altogether,
to the point where the symptoms completely obscured the
root. Almost that is, were it not for Abraham.
Where do we stand today?
Abrahamís awareness has now penetrated, even
saturated, most of the world. Yet, in certain ways, relatively
speaking, we still are faced with the two options of Abrahamís
Do we choose a life of self indulgence, self
worship and the worship of other people or creatures like
us? Or do we choose G-d.
Every moment of your day, in your every move,
you have these two choices.
Another manifestation of the dilemma takes
on an ironic twist. Even Abraham’s spiritual teachings
have been hijacked by some. In the name of Abrahamic faith
many religious leaders in the last two millennia have turned
religion into another form of self-aggrandizement, thereby
paganizing it, in the sense that the religion is more about
self worship, worship of authorities or other entities other
than G-d Himself.
This, of course has had a profound backlash,
with many progressive thinkers reject anything that appears
faith based – rejecting as it were the distortions
imposed on Abraham’s faith.
But whatever shape or form the distortion
takes it always comes down to the same basic issue: Do we
turn to G-d on His terms or on our own?
Abraham, born 3818 years ago, left us a monumental
legacy – relevant today as much as ever.
As ďfather of all nationsĒ Abrahamís message
is for all people. He can help us retrace our steps and
see how we were before distortions set in, which can help
us align ourselves instead of perpetuating projected social
Will you be an Abraham, on a quest seeking
the root, or another symptomatic consequence of culture?
As we read about Abrahamís journey, the question
we all have to ask ourselves is this:
Will I be part of the problem or part of the