The work may be seen in the context of disturbing current events in
Israel and the world, where the dominant trend of behavior of most
individuals and the society seems to be that only the violent prevail.
If I were to seek an appropriate phrase from Jewish sources, I
would choose the following section from the Ethics of the Fathers
Rabbi Hanina, the priest second-in-charge, says: One should pray for
the authority of Kingdom, because if there is no fear from it, each
person would swallow his friend alive.
It would seem that Rabbi Hanina voices a basically pessimistic view
about human nature and prefers any kind of societal order (even the
oppressive rule of the Roman empire) to anarchy. This is emphasized by
the fact that Rabbi Hanina himself was one of the famous Ten Martyrs
who were cruelly tortured by the Romans.
This idea would seem to fit the triptych submitted. The center panel
suggests a scene of uncontrolled violence which is being "contained" by
the outer panels with their strong diagonal vectors and a hint of two
fishes swallowing each other on the right and perhaps a Roman soldier
on the left.
A Jewish mystical interpretation sheds a completely different light on
the phrase and ultimately the idea behind the triptych. The context now
is not societal but the individual. The idea of "swallowing one's
friend alive" is not to kill him, but to believe because of an
exaggerated self-evaluation that everyone else exists (and is allowed
to live) only to be absorbed and used to satisfy one's own needs. The
correction for this is the Fear of Malchut or Kingdom, a higher Divine
Authority, which forces the individual to contain and ultimately
transcend his ego and self-aggrandizement. Now the center panel can
relate to the EEG activity of an individual's brain while the diagonal
vectors on the side panel symbolize or suggest transcendence.
This is one of the important secrets of the Hebrew letter Aleph א, the only letter with a dominant diagonal form and of course the first letter of the Ten Commandments.
Finally, we can derive a typically Jewish exegesis that internalizes
the “swallowed friend” to include even our sworn enemies,
such as Pharaoh and Amalek, which become now symbols of the undesirable
aspects of one’s own personality. And if a tikkun or correction
of the individual is achieved, it can then have a positive influence
also on the outside reality and society.