Two years ago the art world was hit by a storm with something very unusual that took place at a Sotheby’s art auction. The famed auction house was auctioning off a piece by Banksy, a talented anonymous street artist, known for his graffiti style art with satirical political messages. Banksy has made it known that he does not want his art sold at auction. The piece sold for 1.4 million dollars, but right after the gavel dropped, an alarm sounded from within the piece and much to the shock of those in attendance, the picture started to drop from the frame in shredded form. Shortly after, Banksy released a video on his Instagram account showing that when he framed the piece, he installed a shredder with other electronics that would allow him to shred the document on demand. Banksy summed up his stunt with this quote on his Instagram account – “Going, going, gone …” along with a picture of stunned onlookers as the shredded art emerges from the bottom of the frame, quoting Picasso who said, “The urge to destroy is also a creative urge” [This quote is actually from Mikhail Bakunin, an anarchist who influenced Picasso].
Ironically, the stunt according to artists significantly raised the value of the piece, the woman who won the bidding at the auction decided to go through with the purchase. Sotheby’s released a statement that said “Banksy didn’t destroy an artwork in the auction, he created one,” calling it “the first artwork in history to have been created live during an auction.”
The Tur (circa 1269 -1343, Toledo), author of one of the most important halachic books of all time, when discussing the importance of justice comments that the source that judging properly is considered an act of creation is from this week’s parasha, the Mabul – the great flood. Just as G-d rooted out the evildoers who were stealing and mistreating one another, a judge who does the same contributes to the creation of the world.
The obvious question is that the source he quotes from the Mabul is about destruction, not creation, what bearings does that have with regards to a judge establishing justice?
R. Avraham David Wahrman, suggests a profound idea, referencing the Gemara in Megillah 31b:
תניא רבי שמעון בן אלעזר אומר אם יאמרו לך זקנים סתור וילדים בנה סתור ואל תבנה מפני שסתירת זקנים בנין ובנין נערים סתירה.
“If the elderly tell you to destroy and the young tell you to build, destroy and don’t build, for the destroying of the elderly is building, and the building of the young is destroying”.
The flood was considered “סתירת זקנים” destroying of the elderly which essentially is building. In other words, from the perspective of damage, the flood was certainly destructive, but from the perspective of justice, the flood was constructive. The Tur was not telling us that punishing or destroying criminals is the way to create the world. Rather, he was highlighting the fact that all acts of justice are creative acts, even those that appear on the surface to be destructive.
Bakunin was an anarchist and as such, when he said “The urge to destroy is also a creative urge,” destruction was a preferred option. We, however, use destruction for creation sparingly. If you scratch the wall in your house, you can fix it by painting over the scratch or by knocking down the wall (or the whole house) and replacing it. Most people would consider the former, less destructive option, to be the preferred option. Yet we keep “creative destruction” as a tool in our toolbox to use when needed. We shouldn’t necessarily look for the Mabul-like destruction for creation, but there are moments in our lives when we have to take one step backwards to take two steps forward. Like the judges referenced by Tur, if we use this tool wisely to help grow, it can be a true act of creation.
In challenging times like these, where being together as a community in person is a challenging option, perhaps it is constructive for us to take a few steps back and dig deep within ourselves to appreciate our core values as Torah observant Jews, to enable us to come out the other side with a new lease on life and renewed sense of commitment and dedication.
Rabbi Shlomo Gabay