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Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Long and Winding Road to P'shat

I heard a story once about Picasso who once found himself accosted by a fellow guest at a cocktail party. The man in question confronted the cubist painter, fairly foaming at the mouth, saying to him, “You're no artist at all! Your paintings don't look like real people or real anything!” He removed a small photo from his wallet and brandished it in front of Picasso's face. “See this? This is a picture of my wife. That's what she really looks like. Why you can't paint like that?”

Picasso took the photo in his hand, examined it carefully and, handing it back to its owner declared, “Your wife must be very small, flat and gray.”

The point, of course, is that the photograph is not necessarily a better representation of a subject than a cubist projection. Both contain information which reflects a reality but neither one 'is' the reality as such. A cubist portrait, for example, chooses to recognize painting as an essentially two dimensional medium. Therefore, in order to present a three dimensional figure, it will lay out the various sides or aspects of that figure so that they are seen all at once on a flat surface.

Imagine for a moment that you meet a two dimensional being such as a Flatlander and you want to explain to him (or her!) what a cube is. You can give them all the information about the makeup of a cube by drawing out six squares in the shape of a cross which would represent the six sides of a cube. The only, but perhaps crucial, element they would be missing is the third dimension. In fact, the toughest concept to explain would be that the two lines which are furthest away from each other are, in fact, the same line!

In the last couple of postings I dealt with a midrash which says that God used the Torah to create the universe. Consider that the Torah mentioned in this context would not have been a Torah scroll written on parchment like the ones we have in the synagogue ark. How could it have been? Prior to the Creation there was no form, no matter.

So what was this Torah which God used?

Okay, I don't know. Nobody knows except God and She ain't tellin'. Or, more to the point, God couldn't possibly tell us just as a three dimensional person can't really tell a two dimensional person precisely what a cube is.

However, just as the three dimensional person can give (nearly) all the information of what makes a cube to the two dimensional person, so, too, God can give us (nearly) all the information which is the pristine, primal Torah.

And maybe, just maybe, if we work very hard at it, we too can glimpse the fully dimensional Torah. More about that in the next posting!


  1. I like where you're going. And I've been suspecting for a while this is not only a one extra dimension missing, but quite a few N's of them.