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Aleph Beta Reacts
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Rivky Stern: Hey David, thank you so much for having me back.
David Block: It is a pleasure as always.
So this week we are talking about Parshat Tazria Metzora. This week's video was really a supplementary material, really an expansion on a beautiful idea that Rabbi Fohrman really brought out from the text in last year's videos on Tazria Metzora. There Rabbi Fohrman actually shows very compellingly how the story of the Metzora or the situation of the Metzora - the leper, one who contracts Tzara'at, the physical but spiritual ailment and his reuniting with community, is really quite parallel to the laws of the Pascal Offering - the Korban Pesach that the Israelites offered when they originally left Egypt. So again, if you haven't yet seen those, go over there, check those out and then join us back here and we can have a conversation really about the more complete ideas that all of the videos bring out.
I'm going to start like I always do - if that's okay?
Rivky Stern: Please.
David Block: I'm going to throw the ball in your court and ask you Rivky, what did you take out of the videos? What did it mean to you?
Rivky Stern: I think one of the things that I thought was so interesting, and I think this is a sort of common recurring theme in a lot of the Aleph Beta videos, is how critical nationhood is to each of us. I think we often think of Judaism and we often think of religion in general as something very personal, as something between me and G-d. But at the same time, Rabbi Fohrman points out over and over - and especially with something like Tazria Metzora, which again you think of as so personal, I'm going through - I have these lesions on my body. Yet it's so much about community, it's so much about nationhood, rejoining the community. The same way the Korban Pesach - the Pascal Offering, was very much a part of community.
A couple of weeks ago, we were all sitting at home enjoying the Seder with our family, but it's so much more powerful thinking about that in the context of our entire nation being a part of that. Religion is not just about the spiritual relationship between me and G-d - although obviously that's critical - it's also about so much more than that, it's about all the people I'm going through this process with at the same time. I think Rabbi Fohrman brought that out really well in this video.
David Block: Yeah, it's actually a really cool idea and I definitely relate to it. Two things that you said, one is that when we're sitting at our Pesach Seder as we just did a few weeks - I don't even know where we are - a few weeks ago, and it's not just us, right, we try to connect to the story and what, but it's not just us, it's really all the families. That's really exactly what happened with the Korban Pesach, we became a nation…
Rivky Stern: Right.
David Block: …when everyone did it, and they - oh, they knew everyone else was doing it too, but the moment we became a nation is when we all emerged the next morning and we realized hey, we were all doing the same thing.
Rivky Stern: Right exactly.
David Block: That's when we became a nation.
Rivky Stern: There's a visual cue for that also, right? Because someone could walk outside, look at all these doors and we're making sort of a physical symbol. It's not just that what I'm doing in my home, it's about making this symbol that I'm doing this along with everyone else.
David Block: That's true. What struck me also about what you're saying is something that I didn't think about all too seriously when I was originally - both working on the original videos and this year's. Is that, yeah we take for granted that we have an individual self and a communal self. It doesn't just mean that the Metzora kind of got kicked out of the community, was a way of us saying, hey we don't want you to be here anymore. It's actually that there was a part of him that died, the communal part was kicked out. I wonder to what extent I actually realized that. Like, do I really distinguish? Do I feel like I have a communal self? Do I feel that my identity is not just who I am when I'm by myself, but it's actually kind of intrinsically tied to a community? I don't know if that means the community where I live - I live in Queens, I don't know if it means where I grew up in Long Island - not that you guys care about this. But I don't know if it means that, I don't know if it means a larger community.
Rivky Stern: David stop that - everyone cares…
David Block: Everyone cares…
Rivky Stern: …about where you live. Just comment if you have any questions about further detail. [Laughs].
David Block: So I guess the point is I don't know if it means a location-al community - geographical I should say - I don't know if it means maybe a community in thought, of people who are like-minded, who think similarly to you. But I guess the point is, is just that, I wonder if I think about my existence as intrinsically tied up into some sort of community?
Rivky Stern: Right, and this just struck me as you were speaking. I think maybe a theory - and I'm not sure if this has any validity whatsoever - maybe what it means to have a communal self is the part of you that is about giving to others. Again, it's weird to call it selfish, but the relationship between me and G-d, that's very personal, that doesn't deal with you David, that doesn't deal with my family, that doesn't deal with my friends, with my co-workers. The part of me that is a part of a team, when I come into an office every day, or when I sit together with my family, there is something there that is about something much larger than me and G-d, it's about giving to others, it's about sort of helping with other people to create something larger than myself.
In that way also when you talk about a personal death and a communal death, when I die, my relationship with G-d is not over. My relationship with G-d doesn't end with sort of a physical death. But in a similar way, you could talk about what it means for your relationship with the community to not die also. I think part of that is about the things you've laid out in your life that will continue after you've passed away. The contributions you've made to your immediate community, to your larger community, to the world, all of these small things are ways in which you continue to live in a communal way after you passed away.
What do you think?
David Block: I think it's a powerful point. In an audio lecture on Dayenu, Rabbi Fohrman talked about the concept of irreducible complexity. That there are some objects, like a car, each part in a car has significance, but some has more significance than other. Can the car operate without windows? Sure. Can it operate without an engine or transmission? Not really. There are other objects where when you look at a larger [pole 5:39] each part is both significant and insignificant, it's totally insignificant on its own, but without that part the whole thing wouldn't operate. It's called irreducible complexity, that every single aspect of the whole cannot be reduced to anything less than what it is.
So generally when this irreducible complexity was coined it really meant there are different parts of the body, certain cells, the eye, things like that. But - and I forget what the scientist who came up with it, but the example he gave was a mousetrap. That there are five parts of the mousetrap - I don't know what I'm talking about right now. But there are five parts of a mousetrap that every single part is totally pointless on its own, but if you don't have one of those five parts…
Rivky Stern: That's fascinating…
David Block: …then the entire thing won't operate. So that's the question, so is each part significant or is it insignificant?
Rivky Stern: It's like a Rube Goldberg Machine also.
David Block: It's like a what?
Rivky Stern: Do you know what Rube Goldberg Machines are?
David Block: I will right now.
Rivky Stern: So Rube Goldberg - we did Rube Goldberg projects in Eighth Grade, it's basically almost you're creating a chain of things that are completely unrelated. Like you bowl a bowling ball and then that knocks over a pin and the pin is attached to a string, and the string - and that you could have 10 steps, you could have 100 steps - there are very cool YouTube videos with Rube Goldbergs. But each part individually is just doing something interesting, but together…
David Block: What it creates.
Rivky Stern: …they all come up with that last, final piece.
David Block: So then you ask, is each step in the process - is each piece of the mousetrap, is it significant or insignificant? So the truth is it's both. It's insignificant when you just look at it on its own, but it's entirely significant - it's infinitely significant in that without it the whole thing doesn't operate. So when you define communal self as your relationship with others and your responsibility towards others, individual self and communal self are really just two irreducible parts to a larger complex figure, which is me. I don't see my relationship with G-d and my relationship with other people as different in that I'm incomplete without either one, that my existence cannot possibly be true if one of those pieces are missing.
So a person is irreducibly complex in that he has so many different relationships that he has to focus on, but the totality of all those relationships is really what makes up the human experience.
Rivky Stern: That's a really fascinating idea and to bring it to something that I think is pretty relevant right now, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein who was one of the two Roshei Yeshiva of Yeshiva Har Etzion in Israel, in Alon Shvut, passed away this week. It's something…
David Block: [Really a 7:50] leader of Modern Orthodoxy.
Rivky Stern: Yeah, he's an incredible, incredible figure. He's been lecturing for something like 50 years, he's been writing, he's a leading thinker, he is - he was just an absolutely incredible, incredible person. Over the past two days I and many others in our community have been spending a lot of time just reading tributes to him written by his students, written by people who met him just once, written by people who have just heard stories about him. I think that's one of the things that just what you were saying really struck me, this idea that a person is both so individual, so tied to G-d, so spiritual, very much about this personal relationship with G-d, and both very much a member of the community.
I think that that's something that when people talk about Rav Aharon, I remember reading a couple of people just talking about watching him during a prayer service, or watching him engage in Torah study. The way that he would focus, his concentration during prayer was unparalleled, it was just honing in on communication with G-d. At the same time, you have all these incredible stories - one by this woman who is now, I think, in her 30s, when she was 12 years old she spent a summer living in Alon Shvut, in that small town, and this random, older gentleman whenever she was walking around she would see him around town and he would always say good evening to her. Her mother took her once, I think, to a lecture by the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, and she saw that it was him, and she was just blown away. This was the only person in town who was saying good evening to this random 12-year-old girl.
It's such a small thing, but the way that Rav Aharon was just so tied to the community in that way, that he would speak to strangers - there are other people who told stories about he would hold open the door for kids as they were walking by, little kids who are running over each other, they're running over his feet. He didn't care, he just thought it was cute.
Of course also there's the majesty of his Torah and his learning and the way he would give Shiur and his eloquence - he was the youngest person ever to get a Doctorate in English from Harvard. But that's nowhere near - I think - as important as the lasting legacy of remembering a Rosh Yeshiva who held open the door for everyone. I think there's something really amazing about seeing both the individual and the communal part of Rav Aharon, remembering…
David Block: [That's what made him who he is 7:50]…
Rivky Stern: …him in that way. Yeah, exactly.
David Block: Beautiful, it's an important tribute to Rav Aharon Lichtenstein who, as Rivky said, just passed away recently.
Anyway, we'll wrap it up for today. There's a lot more to say, a lot more to say about the distinction between Egypt and the Israelites, but for the sake of time and your convenience we will wrap this up.
Thank you so, so much for joining us on this edition of Aleph Beta Reacts. Rivky, thank you for being here…
Rivky Stern: David, this has been a blast.
David Block: We will do more. We really hope that you share your thoughts, your reactions in the comments section below, we'd love to see them, we'd love to read them, and we hope to hang out with you again very soon on our next edition of Aleph Beta Reacts.
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