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Sunday, January 18, 2004

Some of that ol' time religion

with a distinctly literary bent

by Rabbi David Aaron, founder of the Isralight Institute in Jerusalem
The Torah, in the Book of Genesis, makes an outlandish assertion. It says that G-d created man in His image. What's that supposed to mean? G-d created man in His image in the same way that an author creates all his characters in his image. Each character in the story expresses a different aspect of the author. Even the interaction between the characters is in some way an unfolding of the truth of the author.

On the other hand, there are other characters that the author doesn't identify with. Every good story has an antagonist, a villain. Every good book has a problem character who creates all the tension. Why is that character there? Because the villain plays the essential role of bringing out the inner selves of all the other characters. That's an important role. The role of the evil people in the story is to help the good people in the story reveal their deepest selves, demonstrate extraordinary courage, tremendous fortitude, new commitment, etc. The antagonist in every story is actually providing the opportunities for the other characters to make great choices that embody great goodness. The villain is actually serving the best interest of all the other characters, and, of course, the author (who the story is really all about).

Therefore every character is serving the author. However, some characters are serving the author directly as direct expressions of himself into the world he created. And some are serving the author indirectly by creating opportunities for others to be of direct service.

This is the essence of all choices of every character. To serve or not to serve is not the question, and it is not the choice. Every character serves the author. The choice is only about how you serve -- directly, playing the good guy, or indirectly, playing the villain. And what difference does it make if you serve directly or indirectly? It really does not make a difference to the author -- his story will be written. But it sure does make a difference to you, the character. Your choices not only determine the outcome of your final scene but also the quality of your life throughout the whole story.

As we all know, the good guys win in the end. Sure they might lose some battles along the way but they always win the war. However, even when they appear to be losing, often they are really winning, because in every moment of their struggle they achieve personal transformation and enjoy a profound sense of identification with the author. This is not the case for the villain. Worse than the great demise that awaits him in the final scene is the pain he suffers daily. His soul is alienated from its Divine Source and his inner world has no connection with G-d and is therefore void of any lasting value or meaning.

Now we have a better understanding of the true meaning of "serving G-d" or not "serving G-d." Generally, when you pick up the Bible, and you read about serving G-d, you may feel put off. Why would I want to serve G-d? Be servile? It seems kind of demeaning. But if you're a character in the story, how could you not want to serve the author? It's who you are. And it's the greatest honor in the world.

What does it mean to serve the author directly? It means that I am a vehicle for the expression of the author into this story. The more I serve the author, the more the author's presence permeates my very being, and the more I discover that I am actually a spark of the author. It's not about obedience. It's about self- expression. It's about who you are, why you are, who is G-d and why He creates.
Rabbi David Aaron is author of Endless Light and Seeing G-d.