Up until the French Revolution in 1789, society was divided into three groups: the church, the aristocracy and the peasants. In the terminology of the post-modern French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), the landowners and the church were the center and the peasants were the periphery. The two did not mix. Education, money and power were restricted to the elite; the peasants enjoyed no such privileges. After the French Revolution, the periphery was also given some of the privileges that were previously the exclusive right of the center. Although the landowners and the educated were still regarded as the center, the difference now was that peasants had the possibility of entering this exclusive domain.

The post-modern era, according to Derrida, was a time of "deconstruction." While previously all things were seen in pairs, one superior to the other—rich and poor, educated and ignorant, powerful and powerless, etc.--the deconstructivist view is that rich is not necessarily superior to poor, in fact, being poor can be more advantageous. Seen from this perspective, poor is the new center and rich is the periphery. Derrida goes one step further and says that hierarchy should not exist at all; rather, all boundaries between center and periphery should be deconstructed.1

Western society is, in many ways, a deconstructed civilization. Modern human rights laws have ensured that the views of vulnerable minorities are respected and listened to. Whereas in the past women were seen as inferior, today they are often regarded as superior to men.

In Judaism, too, one can identify these two approaches and philosophies—what I would call the non-Kabbalistic view of Judaism and the Kabbalistic view of Judaism. While both affirm the Thirteen Principles of Faith (the fundamental beliefs and doctrines of Judaism as formulated by Maimonides) and fully adhere to Halachah (Torah law), the former represents an almost "feudal" outlook while the latter is deconstructivist in its perspective.

In non-Kabbalistic Judaism, the center is held distinct from the periphery. An enclave of (male) Torah scholars keeps itself aloof from the unlearned, spiritually disenfranchised masses. Theologically, the center is occupied by the spiritual and the holy; the periphery by the material and the mundane. There is little contact or movement between the center and the periphery, and only for the latter to serve the former.

The Kabbalah, particularly as interpreted by the Chabad school, adds a deconstructivist element to Judaism. It notes the inherent superiority of the female over the male and says that in the messianic epoch women will be perceivably greater than men. Similarly, the Kabbalah deconstructs the boundaries between the physical and the spiritual. Whereas non-Kabbalistic Judaism holds spirituality superior to physicality, the Kabbalah maintains that in the final analysis the physical is more potent.

The principle is simple: the higher the source the lower it reaches. Esau is thus seen as having a higher spiritual antecedent than Jacob. One who meditates may reach lofty spiritual heights; however, the essence of G‑d will remain elusive. Ironically, Kabbalah teaches that the only way one can connect to the Divine essence is through the physical. Spiritual levels are by definition constantly cognizant of their dependency on their sources. Conversely, physical objects project auras of egocentricity—they seem to depend on nothing other than themselves for their existence. This aura is, in a sense, a reflection of the the nature of the Divine essence whose existence is truly independent.2 According to the Kabbalists, the ex nihilo nature of the creation of the physical universe necessitates direct intervention of the Divine essence. It is this intervention that allowed the physical to assume its egocentric aura. Thus, there is a unique similarity—at least in terms of language—and connection between the physical and the Divine essence.3

This sheds light on the mitzvot, which are mainly physical acts rather than mystical meditations. It is precisely through the physical act of a mitzvah that the most profound connection with the Divine is forged. In fact, according to a Midrash4--adopted by the Kabbalists—the purpose of creation was for humans to unveil the Divine essence found in those parts of the universe which are most devoid of G‑dliness. This stresses the inherent value of the mundane and unrefined aspects of the universe—where the mission is most intense.5 This completely deconstructs the boundaries:6 what was once regarded as the centre—without the Kabbalistic explanation—can now be seen as the periphery, and vice versa.