The Midrash, in a famous passage (Bereishit Rabba 39:1), describes Avraham’s logically deducing the existence of a Creator, drawing an analogy to a traveler who happens to see a large palace ablaze. Beholding the sight, the person asks, “Is it possible that this palace has no owner?” A burning building with nobody working to douse the flames would appear to be abandoned and ownerless, but it would seem inconceivable that such a large, magnificent structure would not have any owner. Finally, a nearby voice shouts, “I am the owner,” confirming that indeed, there is somebody who owns this building. Similarly, the Midrash relates, Avraham looked at the world and said, “Is it possible that this palace has no owner?” Despite the many “fires” that burn here in our world, the many problems, crises, tragedies, wars and ills that plague humanity, and which led many to believe that the world has no “owner,” Avraham insisted that there must be a Creator who governs the earth. Finally, God – like the palace’s owner in the analogy – spoke to Avraham and affirmed that indeed, the world has an “owner.”
Among the many different insights offered into this analogy is an interpretation suggested by Rav Avraham of Slonim, in his Beit Avraham. He detects within the burning palace analogy an observation about not just the state of the world, but also the state of every human being. Within each one of us is a “fire” that causes a great deal of damage and threatens to entirely consume us. Our vices, negative qualities, bad habits and sinful passions resemble a raging fire that hinder our efforts to live the lives we are supposed to live and be the people we are supposed to be. The question posed by the wayfarer about the burning building might also be asked about ourselves: is there an owner? Is it possible to take control of our beings and extinguish the “fire” within us? With so many flaws, powerful and unpredictable emotions, and negative tendencies, are we capable of overcoming our vices and conducting ourselves the way we should? The Midrash teaches us that indeed, the “burning palace” – the human soul – has an owner who fully controls it. We are, in fact, capable of protecting our beings and dousing the “flames” within us, and we must therefore never allow ourselves the convenience of despair, and must instead put in the work necessary to battle the “flames” and be the people we are meant to be.