There's something uniquely evocative about the image of a castle in flames. After all, a castle is meant to protect, not trap, its inhabitants. It's made of stone, so why should it burn? It's an outmoded structure, so why is it relevant here?
The metaphor comes from a midrash, or explanatory tale, of the Torah (the Hebrew bible). In that midrash, Abraham, the original, and literal, iconoclast looks around at an exquisitely designed universe but also sees raging injustice—crime, abuse of the weak and vulnerable, chaos. He is bewildered, unable to understand why, if the universe is designed so meticulously, chaos should reign.
The midrash compares Abraham to a traveler who comes across a castle in flames. The traveler asks, "Is there no owner here [to put out the flames]?" A voice responds from within: "I am here." The response is not an assurance that the owner will put out the flames. To the contrary, the mere statement of existence is something of an assurance he will not. The traveler can only infer that while the castle—our universe—is not empty, it's also incumbent upon him to put out the flames, to make this world better.
When we look around today, we sometimes see nothing but flames, a world on fire. For most people reading this, it's not a physical fire. Life is pretty good, materially speaking, for most of us. But the flames of discord, of uprooted identities, of lives challenged by emotional anguish, have beset our culture.
Meanwhile, those whose job it is to guide the culture through an open exploration of ideas have abdicated. Where culture was once about an open exploration of ideas rooted in the core value of life , today the cultural establishment has focused its energies on attaining (and maintaining) ideological power.
It's on us to put out the flames. Even more to the point, as Abraham is commanded in that chapter of the Torah the midrash comes from, "Lech lecha!"—go out, seek a new land, build a new place, create a new way. The Burning Castle offers that place, however small in its beginnings, where people who have choked on the smoke for too long can find a little air to breath.
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