Anyone who needs models or metaphors for his work has often encountered the difficulty of being unable to extricate himself from the model and of going back to the original.
The simplified sample has a hold over the mind that the complex source cannot always have.
Indeed, everyone clings to a particular model of things, and this often serves as an obstacle to the truth of the matter.
Of course, without these models it is virtually impossible to solve many problems.
Indeed, in all the fields of human knowledge, we have the dilemma of the model that serves as an aid and becomes an obstacle to understanding.
It may be likened to the relationship between form and content, the inner and the outer, the light and the vessel to contain it.
The light cannot exist without a vessel, it cannot manifest without something to reflect it, but when it does appear, one sees the object, the vessel, and not the light itself.
The two have become one.
What is being explained here is the need for dependable points of departure.
We define things, and our definitions certainly have a meaning.
Nevertheless, they can get beyond the grasp of our intelligence.
When one goes a little beyond the limits of one's powers of conceptualization, one no longer knows what one is talking about.
At the same time, we do choose one particular model rather than another, and no matter which we choose, the connection with the original concept is maintained.
Thus, we make a model of the atom, for example, knowing full well that none of the relations are accurate and that neither the electron, nor any of the other particles, whether neutron or proton, are solid pieces of matter.
Nevertheless, the model itself helps us to understand the atom so that it is possible to work on it.
It is not at all a model in the sense of an exact reproduction on a different scale.
It is a working model, an abstraction.
The important thing is the inner relations between the parts.
In the same way, the human body is often used to express various metaphorical concepts.
Thus, when we say that Chesed and Gevurah may be charted on a diagram of the Sefirot as right and left in terms of function, we do not mean to insinuate that Chesed is like the right hand of God or that it has anything to do with the right hand of a man.
It is a model of only limited homologous relations that has value only because it enables the mind to grasp certain truths.
Thus, too, many of the source incidents of the Halachah, as described in the Scriptures, are really only models.
A butting ox, an exposed pit, and the like are models of legal problems or rather of relations between litigants.
Unfortunately, too many of those who study Talmud find it hard to extricate themselves from the confines of the model.
In this case, as in all instances of being trapped by the metaphor, the model becomes something absurd.
It is the imagination that interferes.
One has to learn to function on two levels — one, recognizing that the model helps us to understand something, the other, that it doesn't really express the thing itself.
This sort of intellectual difficulty is sometimes the chief obstacle in the way of certain cultures that seek to adapt themselves to a scientific approach.
They confuse the model with the original object, often as a result of a long tradition of idolatry, of failing to distinguish the instruments of Divinity from Divinity.
And the failure to free oneself from the model and to relate to the source is idolatry.
–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From The Sustaining Utterance, p. 99, by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz