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What Is the Meaning of Life?
Video 7 of 7
Rabbi Fohrman: Hi folks…
Immanuel Shalev: Okay, let's get started. Welcome to the Meaning of Life webinar; question-answer session. This webinar kind of evolved out of one of the most exciting podcasts that we did on the meaning of life. We want to give you guys the chance to ask questions on the meaning of life - you've submitted questions, the questions have been reviewed, there are some incredible, incredible stuff, we're excited to talk about it.
Just so you know, just a point of order, you can ask your own questions during this webinar, there's a place to submit questions below, feel free to interrupt, ask as many questions as you can, we'll probably ask you some questions as well. We're excited to hear from you, this is a collaborative process. That's my brief introduction. Rabbi Fohrman - turn it over to you.
Rabbi Fohrman: Hey, so I just want to say hi over here and I'm looking forward to this. I always enjoy the chance to be able to actually interact with some of you folks about the material that we're putting out here.
Just a quick word of introduction, the fellow off here to my left - I don't know if he appears on the left of your screen, but he appears on the left of my screen - is Immanuel Shalev. He directs operations for us here at Aleph Beta and you guys get a chance to see the inner workings of Aleph Beta - at least a quarter of Immanuel's office, and a quarter of my office that appears in the background to this video. Immanuel played a really wonderful role here in the development of this course, he was kind of my Chavruta for it. As I think I may have mentioned in the audio of the courses themselves my ideas changed quite a lot about this course over time, and you guys were a big part of that and Immanuel was a big part of that also. We [did 1:54] spend a lot of time going over stuff both before recording and also vetting things, recording different versions of things and putting it all together and ruminating.
So Immanuel, I just want to thank you for your input in this and making the course as wonderful as it is.
Before we get into some of the questions, I just want to say that for me this course was exciting because this is stuff I periodically think about; meaning of life in its larger sense. Kind of been the history of my thinking about it and for me it goes all the way back to - I think it must have been 1999 or so when I took my first stab at the topic and put together a course called; [A Meaning of Life Five Cents 2:38] patterned after Lucy's booth on the Peanuts comic. I don't know if you guys know Lucy and Charlie Brown from Charles Schulz but The Psychiatrist is In, and Psychiatric Advice Five Cents. So I figured, Meaning of Life Five Cents. That was a course that I built out actually using some Kabbalistic concepts of the Sefirot.
Then - it was kind of one stab at it, and then here when Aleph Beta was just kind of getting started about a year or so ago in the summer, we took another stab at this, and never actually developed it into a course we put online or anywhere. It was patterned - it really had a whole different focus. Focused around the kind of tantalizing question; is life a game and what does game really mean? I think I may have actually done a webinar on Tisha B'Av dealing with some of those topics, which was kind of an early version of things, last year.
This year when we started to talk about doing this course we were thinking of coming back to some of those themes about game and then we just kind of developed it. For those of you who have been around the block and watching Aleph Beta videos, you may know that back in this year's Parshat Toldot video is where you can begin to see world 1 and world 2 as they developed in this course, in Eileh Toldot - these are the generations of - we talked about the meaning of those words in Tanach. This is an attempt to go back and look at each of these worlds and it's kind of gratifying to see that seemingly the Torah is talking about meaning of life issues right where you would expect them to be, which is kind of right there at the beginning.
So it was a great journey of discovery - obviously a journey of discover that continues. I think we've maybe scratched the surface in some ways and maybe gotten somewhere deeper in other ways. But it's been an exciting journey.
One of the things that I'm curious and I'm wondering if maybe you guys can write in here at the bottom - I think the way you're going to be inputting mostly is through the chat box on your screen. So one of the things I'd like to ask you to reflect on and maybe I'll begin to reflect on this and kick it off to Immanuel, is what, if anything, was your favorite part of this course? Is there anything you particularly hated? Is there anything you particularly liked?
I'll kind of kick off that discussion. For me the process was great. One of the things I particularly liked was actually something which is, I think, a contribution of Immanuel in Audio 4, which was, I think, the very poignant notion that world 1 and world 2 each have their own currency. It's almost like money. And what money is, is the kind of universal symbol of value that everybody agrees on, it's just understood. World 1 has its own universal symbol of value, and world 2 has its own universal symbol of value, and they're two different things. It's like when you come home from Israel and you've got all those Shekels in your pocket and they're jangling around and you realize that you can't even use the highest denomination in America, it just doesn't mean anything. So too if you take world 1 currency and try to use it in world 2, it doesn't work, and if you take world 2 currency and try to use it in world 1, it doesn't work.
Of course, world 2 currency is the currency of connection, of love, and if you use that in world 1 settings - you bring it into the boardroom at [Cravath 6:30] in midtown Manhattan in the middle of an intensely bargained deal protecting oil tankers, it's just not going to get you anywhere. If you take world 1 currency and try to bring it into world 2 - and we talked about some of that, to me, that was one of the most poignant parts of the course, and I have to thank you, Immanuel, for that insight. That it seems so - like it makes so much sense to take the currency of creativity and value and try to quantify things and you're a startup company and everything is how do you quantify success. But nobody really thinks about quantifying success in terms of relationship building. That isn't the way we normally think of quantifying success. But it's a world 2 value and it's world 2 currency, and when you're in world 2, world 1 currency doesn't mean as much.
So to me that was my favorite kind of - I think - takeaway insight from the course, so thank you Immanuel for that. I'll pass the mike over to Immanuel over here, and then I'd love to see what you guys have to say.
Immanuel Shalev: Yeah, let's start on some questions. Just a quick point of order, can you guys see us? You can just type in the question-answer thingy to let us know - I know one person said they had a problem. Yes, okay, good, thank G-d, great, thank you.
Okay, while I have you in the question-answer box and before we start our first question, if you want to share your favorite part of the course right there, that's a good place to do it. We're going to read that while we gather and talk about some questions. So let us know.
Let's get started. The first question Rabbi Fohrman is a little bit difficult, it is asked by [Noah 8:17], who asks, practically, what does this look like? Does it help me decide who to marry, what job to get, what school to attend, what career to choose, where to live, how much vacation, when to have kids, et cetera? And, what about all the little things in life, should I consider meaning of life when I go to school or go to work, in my marriage, my relationship with my parents? It's a doozy.
Rabbi Fohrman: [Laughs] Okay, so there's a lot of stuff in there, kind of asking for what are the practical takeaways into the everyday decisions both big and small that we make in life? So I guess, let me take my hand to that - Immanuel could you give me the first part of the question again?
Immanuel Shalev: Sure, practically, what does this look like? Does it help me decide who to marry, what job to get, what school to attend, what career to choose, where to live, how much vacation should I have?
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay, so those are a lot of questions. Without getting into each one in detail, the answer is a resounding yes. You know I think that meaning of life probably these issues should be influencing our decisions both large and small. To me one of the gratifying things about this is that I think that if we're right that world 1 has an answer to meaning of life and world 2 has an answer to life, those are two great beacons that we can use in making these kinds of decisions and actually evaluating them in an intelligent way. I think the challenge of life comes perhaps in moving around the buttons on the graphic equalizer.
If you are old enough to have a graphic equalizer, not just rely on your phone to play your music for you, so you know that you have these - you have bass and treble and you've got other kind of qualities that you can adjust. I think the - every decision is a function perhaps of both of these values and the question is, how much do you weight the decision towards one value or another?
So for example, getting married, so what would you say, is - and let me actually put this out to you guys and we can poll about this. Getting married, would you say that's a pure world 1 question, a pure world 2 question, or both? What would you say? And you can just write in over here - anybody responding? I only see pink flowers, the screen has a flower, the screen has a…
Immanuel Shalev: Oh here you go, [Miriam is responding 10:55].
Rabbi Fohrman: Miriam says both. So I would agree. It's both, but I would say it's weighted towards world 2. So in other words, when deciding who to marry it's fundamentally a world 2 decision. If you think about marriage or mate, in the Torah it shows up actually in world 2, but there's aspects of world 1 in it possibly.
So for example, what would it look like to look at marriage through a world 1 lens? And by the way for those of you who are involved in dating or whatever system you're in, or Shidduch dating, if you have kids in it or anything, so I think you can relate to what I'm talking about. Where people sort of think about what kind of marriage partner they want, one way to think about it is what profession do I want him to go into or what profession do I want her to go into? So to some extent it's like I want to be secure and to some extent it's also like no, I have a vision of marrying a doctor, or I have a vision of marrying a lawyer, or they're going to be in Klei Kodesh and they're going to do something Jewish. How will they express their creativity?
So that is an important issue to some extent. I want to be a partner with someone in expressing their creativity, I want to express my creativity. Will they have an appreciation for the kind of creativity that I want to express? Those are important issues.
But there's other important issues also, which is the relationship issues. Is this someone who I can accept pleasure from? Is this someone I want to give pleasure to? Is this someone that I want to become whole with and create a we, and have that joy of oneness with? Does that work for me? So those are - it sounds like - no, marriage is primarily a world 2 issue, but it has elements of world 1 in it.
When you think about work it's the same thing, what kind of job do I want to have? Primarily a world 1 issue, but elements of world 2 exist in it also. So for example, it's yes, what kind of impact do I want to have in the world is my primary issue, but it's also what kind of workplace environment do I want to be in? Do I want to be in a company where - that promotes cutthroat competition between people? Or do I want to be in a company that has a real sense that these are people who are all on a same team, that - where camaraderie and kind of kinship works, or a sense that the company is contributing to the world at large?
So I think that the - and by the way, there's no right answer to some of this too. I mean, some people may say, well look, at work I can handle - it's an 80 per cent world 1 thing, and as long as I have 20 per cent world 2 I'm fine. And that may work for one person. For another person they may say no, my primary issue is at work I really want to feel I'm in a collaborative environment and I don't feel I can contribute and be creative in any other kind of way. So I think each person sort of needs to take their pulse about world 1 and world 2, but at least those are the parameters that you really want to be thinking about as you adjust your graphic equalizer with each of these decisions.
Immanuel, I'll hand this over to you.
Immanuel Shalev: Yeah, I mostly agree. I think that there are some other great questions that are going to help flesh this out a little bit more and maybe we can kind of return to it.
Did you take a crack at the second half of the question?
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah, well remind me the second half again.
Immanuel Shalev: So what about all the little things in life, should I consider meaning of life when I go to school or go to work, in my marriage, or my relationship with my parents?
Rabbi Fohrman: So yeah, I mean I think, again it's a good barometer for little things and big things. Where when you go to school, again, the issues are what do I want to get out of school? How do I want to build my skills? How do I want to build my creative power? That's one issue of in school, but the other issue in school is, what kind of relationship am I developing with my classmates, with my teacher? The relationship issues in school are very important also, no man is an island. So I think you've got to somehow balance those and really ask the same kinds of things, which is, is this a primarily world 1 experience? Is this a primarily world 2 experience? Just so you can have a sense of how you're investing your energy in the relationship.
I think it's true with friends also. I would say in developing - as I choose my friends it's primarily a world 2 thing. You could have people who have a kind of somewhat Machiavellian view of friends, where I say my friends are the tools that I use to get ahead in life and to be more creative in life. I think people see them that way, personally - or some people see it that way - personally I think that's a bad way to look at friendships, and I don't think friendships - for me at least is almost a wholly world 2 thing. But to be perfectly frank, a lot of our friendships come from the workplace also, we find ourselves having common ground with those who have similar world 1 interests to us, a lot of times.
So I think - it's hard to give hard and fast rules as to is this a world 1 question or a world 2 question, but I think at the very least we can say, world 1 and world 2 are the issues that we need to contend with, with almost all of these questions.
Immanuel Shalev: I just want to read a submission from [Peggy 16:43] who writes that, I think world 1 and 2 models help, but we need to ask and answer these questions throughout our lives because life shapes us and we change, sometimes evolve. Life has as much meaning as we bring to it, but Rabbi, I would say - and do you agree - that sometimes we feel in our gut what we need to do, we don't have to ask?
Rabbi Fohrman: Oh sure, I mean, I'm not saying that you need to ask all the time, I'm not saying that you have to have your Rabbi or spiritual advisor on tap all the time to answer these questions. I think yeah, when I talk about asking these questions, I mean asking to ourselves. We do feel in our gut what we need to do. But a lot of times sometimes we're confused and that's when you've got to consult your head and actually sort of think about it a little bit. So I think in thinking about it at least, this model of world 1 and world 2 can be [of 17:31] help.
By the way, that which Peggy says, I think rings true for me about revisiting things later in life. I think that Peggy really has a good point that the answers to these questions probably change over life. For example, if you ask yourself what role do friends play in your life when you're 10, what role do friends play in your life when you're 20, what role do friends play in your life when you're 40, those are different for a lot of people and different people would answer those questions differently. As well as what role does marriage play in my life, or even my job play in my life, that these are different stages. There's a time when a job really offers more world 2 connection for people and somebody who may see themselves as on the creativity express as 20 year olds, may see their job as a way that they can reach out and relate to the world much later in life.
I think that yeah, just because you've made a decision doesn't mean that you shouldn't go back and reevaluate it.
Interestingly, I'll just say the last thing over here on that, a book that I often quote now and then is Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book. One of the things that he says in How to Read a Book is that his definition of a good book is a book that you will come back to at different stages of life and see different things in it. I think that those are the books that are really worth reading. I think we can say the same thing for life itself. Life itself is worth living because we can come back to it at different points in life and see different things in it and have different answers to these questions, it's dynamic in that kind of way.
Immanuel Shalev: One thing that Peggy said which also kind of rang true for me as well, is that you kind of have a feeling as you go through life as to what is going to give you meaning and what isn't. Something that I really enjoyed about this course is that in addition to the fact that you were able to look at world 1 and world 2 in Genesis and find all kinds of great meaning, is that it really rang true with my experience of life, and with what so many other people kind of say meaning of life is - which was kind of startling for me. Because we're so used to at Aleph Beta all the evidence and the text has to be there for you to make a particular argument, but here when the evidence in the text is leading towards meaning of life it also has some internal resonance.
I think it also reminds me of something that we talked a lot about in the office with this course, which was the concept of a midlife crisis, which has a really cool and unique place kind of in the transition from world 1 to world 2. But it's this really interesting feeling that here you are working so hard - and if you're following your feeling when you're young, maybe in your 20s and you're starting your first job and you're working really, really hard, you feel like that's what you should be doing. You're trying to build your life, you're trying to build and provide for your family. Then you might hit this [midlife 20:33] crisis, which is this other feeling as life changes, that kind of says, hey wait a second, why am I doing this? Maybe it pushes you into world 2 a little bit - which is just a really, really interesting way of…
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah, I [don't know, when 20:48] you shared the concept with me at first a couple of days ago, it really hit me between the eyes, because that, I think, it's just a great, great definition for what a midlife crisis is. Midlife crisis is where you feel the rug is pulled out from you because your own values start to change. You say to yourself, why do my values start to change? You think there's something wrong with me, what the heck is happening with my values, they're starting to change? And you question yourself, does this mean I was wrong this whole time, it just doesn't feel important. The answer is no, it's a natural thing, your values are supposed to change. It means because you're actually proceeding through life, you're going through a natural kind of progression from world 1 to world 2.
The greatest example of it is G-d Himself, who goes through that exact evolution, so to speak, with respect to the world. At the beginning in world 1, if you think about - yeah, in world 1 G-d is up there front and center and building a world and that's what the world is about, it's about building for G-d, and that's a great thing. When you're done with the world; Vayar Elokim ki tov, over and over again, and the very last thing is; V'hinei tov me'od - and it was very good. Well what does that mean? To me that means it was ultimately valuable, so G-d looks back at the world of creating and says that's ultimately valuable.
But then guess what? It wasn't ultimately valuable because G-d transitioned from that into world 2 which is the world of okay, I've built the world, but ultimately the world is a vehicle. Even though I can say that alone was worth something, it was such a great accomplishment, but it's also a vehicle that opens up world 2.
To me that [is 22:30] really something.
I'm drawn also to this comment by [Adam] here, if you scroll over to Adam's comment, you guys can do it. My favorite part of the course, Adam says, was the concept of world 2 building on or coming on the heels of world 1. That rings true, Adam says, when I think about how I've experienced in life so far. I think Adam is really speaking to this exact same point of midlife crisis.
To me, one way to crystallize it, is thinking about Shabbos. To me, Shabbos is like the coolest thing in the course. I don't think we actually phrased it like this or used this language in the course itself, but - maybe we did, maybe we didn't, but let me come back to it. It's almost like Shabbos looks different depending upon whether you're looking at it from the perspective of world 1 or whether you're looking at it from the perspective of world 2. It's really a transition point.
From the perspective of world 1, which is all about creativity, Shabbos is the end of world 1, it's the apex of creativity. What's the final creative act - and we talked about this in - I don't know if we talked about this in our Parsha videos. But - probably in our Shabbos videos we talked about - in our Shabbos series. But the final creative act ironically is stopping to create. Because when you stop to create you let go, you grant your thing independence, and it's separate from you and that's wonderful. Now I've created the most amazing thing in the world, it's not just my marionette, but it has some sort of separate existence. So that's one way of looking at Shabbos.
But it's a world 1 perspective on Shabbos. So from world 1's perspective, Shabbos is actually the culmination of world 1. But when you look at it from world 2, Shabbos is actually a beginning of world 2. Why? What is world 2?
World 2 is relationship, but it's relationship in a context. So the first context you might say is the Garden, because G-d makes this Garden for people and it's this wonderful, enclosed environment, which is G-d's place, which He invites man into, and it's a special place where they can enjoy each other together. But when you really think about it, there's an environment even before the Garden, and the environment before the Garden is Shabbos. The Garden really is a special place in space and Shabbos is a special place in time. And G-d sort of created that special place in time which is this place where He as creator is no longer creating and where He can invite little creator to stop creating, and they can both share this time together. Of course time is the most valuable commodity, when you can just spend time together and to set aside that time together as the most wonderful and loving thing.
So it's almost like that's where world 2 starts, it starts with time, with the precious resource of time, even before space. I don't know, to me that was a very, very delightful thing.
By the way, one last thing, while we're at it, is that it struck me as just - even today thinking about it, it's just very cool. What is man's job in world 2? So man's job in world 2 is he's there to take care of this special place, to honor this special place. This special place is this precious place where he and G-d kind of hang out together, in the Garden, so he's there; Le'ovdah u'le'shomrah - which is to serve the Garden and to watch over it. Now think about G-d's own relationship to Shabbat, so what does it say? It says that when G-d made Shabbat so; Vayevarech Elokim et yom hashevi'i vayekadesh oto - so G-d set it apart, which means that G-d guarded it, but He also blessed it, which is really about cultivating it and trying to pour some of your energy into it.
So the same relationship that man has to the Garden - which is this special place in space - G-d has to Shabbat. We're just following Him, which is guarding and cultivating.
So, I don't know, to me that was one of the - I don't know, it's just - it's an elegant thing and I agree with you Adam, that's one my favorite pieces. So yep?
Immanuel Shalev: Let's get to a couple more questions, because there are some amazing ones here. [Orah 26:44] asks can an atheist attain meaning in life?
Rabbi Fohrman: Yes, so it's a good question, it's - to me it's one of those possible trick questions. Because you look at this question and you think, well any Rabbi worth his salt would have to say, an atheist, what - how much meaning could an atheist have in life? Again it really goes back to the question of what is your arbiter for meaning of life? What's your barometer for meaning of life? So if really - if you didn't look at this course so you can come up with any barometer for meaning of life, you would say, meaning of life is whether you do G-d's will. So I guess if that's what it is then you're not really getting there, I suppose, if you're an atheist, you might say.
But, conceived this way, I think the answer is really much more nuanced. You can give a world 1 answer to it or a world 2 answer to it, or some sort of merger between them. I think if you say - let's talk about it from world 1, one way to think about it is look, either G-d exists or G-d doesn't exist. So if G-d doesn't exist so as much meaning as you can get out of life by believing in G-d or you can get meaning of life with not believing in G-d, there's no Mitzvah to believe in fictions if G-d doesn't exist.
But if G-d does exist and G-d is really there, and the meaning of life in world 1 is to be creative and in so doing imitating your creator who is creative, so you can have some of that meaning in life. But you're missing at least some piece of the essence of it, of the marrow of it, if you're ignoring the connection that you get to creator by virtue of imitating creator. Because that's one way that we connect to creator.
In world 2, if you say meaning of life is connection and love and relationships so there's no doubt that an atheist can have a meaningful life because he could have connections in all sorts of relationships.
My feeling is that it's - one way to see world 2, which I reject personally, and I'm just going to lay my cards on the table, is that in world 2 all the relationships are practise for G-d. So no relationship is meaningful in and of itself, it's all just practise. So all of my relationships with human beings is practise for G-d, so they really don't count, my only relationship is G-d. Well if that were true, then if I was an atheist I would have no meaning in life.
But personally I think that that's not true, I think that world 2 says all relationships are meaningful. Whatever happens in world 2 is meaningful. My relationship with land is meaningful, my relationship with a woman is meaningful, my relationship with other people is meaningful, my relationship with G-d is meaningful. G-d Himself seems to attest to that, just it's there.
It is true that through our relationships with more tangible things we're able to conceptualize and understand and build bridges and construct relationships with more abstract phenomena, such as G-d, that's true, but I don't think that takes away from the inherent meaning of our other relationships.
So I would just say that in answer to that there is something that you miss by being an atheist if G-d in fact exists - as I believe He does - and that is, that one of your important relationships is with your creator. So the analogy I would give to it is if you imagine that a person is a very loving person, and he's a loving husband and he's loving to his kids and he's a great employee and he's just wonderful to little old ladies, he helps them cross the street. He only has one problem which he has this sense of amnesia and he thinks that he doesn't have parents. And his parents are very frustrated because his parents are there and they gave birth to him and they get a lot of Nachas out of him and they keep on trying to call but whenever he answers the phone he just is - blanks out - and just thinks that they have no connection to him and it causes his parents a great deal of grief.
So you might say that there's a hole in this person's relationships. It doesn't mean he has no meaning in life, he's still getting all the world 2 benefit from his other relationships, but there's something tragic about a particular relationship which is going uncultivated.
So kind of that's what I would say in response to the atheist question.
Immanuel Shalev: It's funny, because when we did this course there were a couple of times where I tried to - that bothered me a lot, to not be able to - I tend to be very extreme, so world 2 to me actually seemed like the entire purpose of everything. So I tried to say world 1 brings you to world 2 and really everything is about getting close to G-d. If I could push you, I guess, because I know your answer, but if I could push you for the rest of the audience, as to why you believe there is an inherent meaning in those basic relationships? And it's not all really about this great analogy, or this great connector back to world 2 or back to a relationship with G-d?
Rabbi Fohrman: I mean if you actually push me on that and force me to prove it to you, I don't know, I don't think I can prove it to you, it's just my - the way I see things, it just doesn't ring true to me. I mean, if you think about all the Mitzvot in the world - I mean, I'll give you a couple of examples. What you would have to then tell me is that most of the Mitzvot in the Torah actually have no inherent value, they're just practise stuff. Because the entire realm of Bein Odom L'chaveiro, all the Mitzvot that have to do with relationships to other people, is fake and has no inherent value. Now you can tell me that, you could say it's all practise if you want, but does that ring true to you?
I'll give you another example. Let's say it were true, let's imagine that this is true. Let's pretend that all of our relationships with other people is really fake and that there's no inherent value in it. So if we pretended that that was true, and what, it's just - so in other words, let's just fill it out here, it's just that by connecting with other people we learn how to connect with G-d. Do we really learn how to connect to G-d? No, we don't learn how to connect to G-d, it won't even work. Why? Because it's fake, and you can't learn anything from fake things.
In other words, what I would say is let's say G-d thinks that it makes absolutely no difference in real life how nice I am to Immanuel in the office. Immanuel is my colleague in the office, it makes no difference. Now G-d sort of chuckles because He has this Mitzvah which is called V'ahavta L'rei'acha Kamocha - you should love your neighbor as yourself, but really G-d sees no actual value in me loving my neighbor as myself, it's just practise so that I can learn to love G-d. So how upset should G-d be if I am a jerk to Immanuel and I walk all over him? And let's say I manage to cultivate my relationship with G-d just fine because I'm one of those few people who can manage to understand - but let's say I think it through and I realize, ah, yeah, really it's just a fake so I don't have to be that concerned. It's true, I'll get my Aveiros because technically I didn't do V'ahavta L'rei'acha Kamocha with Immanuel, but as long as I've got my relationship with G-d, I'm really okay.
So it's like what kind of human being do you think I am? Do you really think I'm a good human being? Is G-d really going to be proud of me?
I just think every fiber in our body rebels against that…
Immanuel Shalev: Yeah, this is the story that you had in that first audio where that person - you find out your friend is sick in the hospital and your reaction is yes, I get to do Bikur Cholim. Like that's [unclear 34:26]…
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah, and it's a terrible thing ultimately, because I think it's really corrupt and awful, because it ultimately makes people ends to some other means. It's just like they're little tools - they're my Mitzvah tools. Which is narcissistic and awful and it wouldn't even work as a way of cultivating a relationship with G-d because what it would actually teach is narcissism and therefore when I finally get to G-d I'll be narcissistic too. So it would be a self-defeating system.
Immanuel Shalev: Great. Okay, next question - I'm trying to decide if I should move to my next question or I should pick up [Aaron's 34:59] question. I'm going to pick up Aaron's question, because I really liked it.
Rabbi Fohrman: Good, I like Aaron's too. [Aaron Asher's] question?
Immanuel Shalev: Yeah. Do you want me to read it?
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah, you read it, I'm just - looking at it.
Immanuel Shalev: How do you respond to religious friends - possibly even Rebbeim - who disagree with you - who disagree with what you believe the meaning of life to be, or the decisions you're making? Especially when you try to express yourself through the Biblical text, like in the course, but their response is that your life should be based on Halacha not inference from Scripture.
Rabbi Fohrman: So one second, I've just - in - if I can ask Aaron to just clarify what he means, if you're still there Aaron. When you say how do you respond, do you mean how do I, Rabbi Fohrman or Immanuel respond, or do you mean how would I suggest that you, Aaron respond? That's a different question. Immanuel, do you know…
Immanuel Shalev: I like the one where you have to respond.
Rabbi Fohrman: Which is that how would I respond, is that what he's saying? I don't think that was the question though…
Immanuel Shalev: We can answer both, they're both interesting questions.
Oh both - yeah Aaron says both, great.
Rabbi Fohrman: Both, okay fine, [unclear 36:00]. All right, I'm going to give my little answer, but Immanuel, I'm going to pump this off to you too. And I'll throw this out to the audience by the way, you guys - there's 36 of you here, feel free to give your response to Aaron, what do you think about this? How would respond to religious friends, possibly even Rebbeim, who disagree with what you believe the meaning of your life to be, or the decisions you're making? Especially when you try to express yourself through the Biblical text like in the course, but their response is that your life should be based on Halacha and not inferences from Scripture.
I mean, this is a loaded question for me. [Laughs] I can spend the rest of the webinar just talking about this. So Immanuel, you're going to have to cut me off if I just sit on soapbox and just talk. But I would say first of all, if we live in a world in which the Torah is not supposed to tell us anything, that's a pretty sad world. In other words, what are we really saying, that the Bible is not actually there to teach us something - right?
And I had an awful experience with that, I remember being in a Yeshiva, which I will not name right now, and giving a class - a weekly class at this Yeshiva. Then - and I was giving it during Mussar Seder actually, which is the time when you're supposed to be working on ethical stuff and things. So there were a lot of people in the class and [we went through pretty well 37:25], we were doing the same kinds of things we do in Aleph Beta. Then one of the Rabbis came over to me and said, you can't give this class during Mussar Seder. So I said to myself, well why can't I give the class during Mussar Seder? I said to him, why can't I give the class during Mussar Seder? He said, it's not Mussar.
Now think about that for a moment. In other words, Mussar is learning things that ethically refine you. So just think about that, what you're saying is, studying Bible deeply in the text, trying to understand what G-d Himself in this Book is trying to tell you at the basic Pshat, simple level, in terms of how you should [define/refine 37:59] your life, does not count for how to actually ethically refine your life and to study that? It only works if you study somebody who lived in the sixteenth century and tells you what he thinks? I have great respect for the Ramchal and Mesillas Yesharim and Rabbeinu Yonah and all of that, but it should be there in G-d's Book too.
So I think that sometimes when you have Rebbeim that suggest that you shouldn't be making inferences from the Biblical text, what you really have to ask is, are my values in line with that or not? I mean, ultimately, no matter who gives you advice it doesn't matter about the length of their beard and it doesn't matter how old they are and it doesn't matter where they learn. You really just at some level have to ask yourself, do the values that this person has ring true for me? I understand the idea for having a mentor in your life and somebody that you ask questions, but there's different possible mentors and - at different times of life we choose different mentors. Maybe at some point when you say my values aren't aligning with that, so maybe you ask different mentors.
So that's kind of one thing I would say.
The other thing is, is that the questions about meaning of life are ultimately personal questions. You can't just delegate the answers to these questions to any mentor ultimately. Mentors are good - I remember Rabbi Weinberg Zatzal used to say that the role of a Rebbi in life - he was my Rosh Yeshiva - he said, the role of a Rebbi in life is to be an objective sounding board for you. To be able to listen to what you're saying, and to be able to point out any hidden biases that you may have, any lies that you may be telling yourself, any logical inconsistencies in what you're saying. Basically - in the words of Aleph Beta - to be an Eitz Hada'as monitor in your life, to make sure that your desires aren't creeping in and skewing your judgment, so that your view of good and evil is [just 40:07] a product of your desires.
That is the role of a Rebbi. Period. Sof Pasuk. Gamarnu.
That's the kind of advice you need in life, and that's the kind of mentor you need, somebody who keeps you honest basically and keeps you internally consistent.
But the great questions of value, of how you organize your life, those are questions that - I hate to say this to you guys - but those are lonely questions that you have to make alone and wrestle with and come to terms with and live with. It has to ring true to you. The reason why you should believe anything in this course is not by the length of my beard or even how long it is that I've studied, but the question you have to ask yourself is, does this ring true for you? Does this seem like what the Torah is saying? And you may say yes, 100 per cent, and you may say no, 100 per cent, you may say mostly, you may say yes, but I see it a little bit differently. That's the work that everybody has to deal with and there's no way to escape that work.
So I guess that's my short answer - and Immanuel, I'm curious as to what you have to say here too.
Immanuel Shalev: Yeah, my - I guess my approach would be much more to try and explain my conception of Halacha. I think for me - a friend of mine gave me a great analogy about Halacha where it's almost like if you conceive of life or religion as a skyscraper, Halacha is like the lobby. It's the way in, you have to use Halacha to get into the skyscraper, but you also have to make sure that you visit the penthouse. So it's - sure, Halacha is going to guide you for how to live your life meaningfully, it's going to tell you the dos and the don'ts, but the real flavor of it all, or the thing that guides you, I think, to some extent is your passion.
One of the first - the first thing that I ever read of yours, Rabbi Fohrman, before I ever met you, was in The Beast That Crouches at the Door, and the real ahah moment for me was the whole piece around [Barati Yetzer Ra'ah Barati Torah Tavlin 42:16]. Where Torah is the Tavlin - it's the spice, which means the Yetzer Harah is the [meat]. Which means that passion is really what drives you and so much of what the Mitzvos are meant to do is to really guide you and to - you have creativity, you have world 1, but you have to discipline that creativity. And you have passion and you have love, and that needs to be channeled in the right ways.
So that's kind of how I would reconcile this overall meaning of life concept with Halacha. I feel - yeah, I'll end there, I'll stop short…
Rabbi Fohrman: One other thing that I'll mention in that, it's true, that - I guess what you're saying is Halacha are legal guides, laws, that help you direct your sense of passion. But really when you're talking about creativity or even love, what you're actually talking about is the passions themselves; what are the things that we are actually passionate about in life? So it's actually almost like a - it's - I don't know how to phrase it, it's - what Halacha is, is the thing that guides this, and what this course is talking about is not the stuff that guides it but the thing itself.
In other words, the great passions in life that Jewish law seeks to direct are these passions - and maybe that's really another answer to the question here, which is what is Halacha trying to do? Let's talk about what Halacha does. What Halacha does is takes our two most basic passions and says, here are the legal guidelines you need to use when going about life and exercising these passions in the world. So in other words, when you're creative here are the things that are regulations that you need to adhere to so your creativity doesn't go off the cliff.
So there's Shabbos, which is a break on creativity and you have to stop it. There's Shemitah which is a break on creativity. There's all the Mo'adim - which we'll eventually get to - which are also examples of regulating creativity in various different kinds of ways. There's love and there's the laws of Araiyot - of who you can love and what's fair game in love and how do you do it and how you can betray in love, and all of those things. So yes, the Torah is trying to take those things and Halacha is trying to guide it.
Halacha, by the way, is one way of guiding it but it's not the only way of guiding it either. The famous Ramban who talks about - I think Immanuel we lost you here, I don't know if you're still there, but your…
Immanuel Shalev: [Unclear 45:09]…
Rabbi Fohrman: Your web cam has gone, oh now it's back.
But the Ramban famously says that there's an idea of [Minavel 45:19] B'reshut HaTorah, which is that you can punctiliously keep to all the laws of the Torah and you can also be an evil person. You can find ways to evade the spirit of the Torah that's there. So Halacha is no guarantee, it's a guide, but it's a guide that you have to use some Seichel with also because you can still be evil even while following the laws.
Which, I think, gets to a point which we made earlier also, back in our Parsha video on Noach, which is when you think about the kind of book the Torah is as a whole, it's a guidebook, and the guidebook is composed of different parts, and one of those parts is law, but it's not the only part. The Torah itself - Torah Shebichtav, includes law but it also includes stories, and those stories are meant to guide us too. The reason why those stories are there - you can imagine being in Yeshiva and thinking, well why do we even bother having a Torah Shebichtav? Why don't we just have Gemara? Why don't we have Mishna? Why did G-d waste His time writing these Five Books of Moses that don't offer any guidance anyway, it's just a waste of time G-d?
The answer is no, there's stuff in there that's actually supposed to guide you too. There's a Pshat level of the laws which is different than the Halachic level of the laws, and that's part of the story that G-d is telling. Then there's stories that you learn ethical values from that can't be translated into the world of law and that's why they're there, because that's what you need to guide you. So really being guided, law plays an exceedingly important part but if it's the only part, you are - then (a) you're not being completely guided properly and (b) the passion which the purpose of the law is to guide, it's the stuff that is guided, is missing, so what do you have? You have a legal life that's meant to constrain this big engine called passion, but you have no engine there that you're working with.
So those are some of the answers that I would suggest, along with Immanuel, to that question.
Immanuel Shalev: Great, which it kind of also answered a different question that was asked, so that - [unclear 47:20] - someone asked about - a pretty much similar question about Mitzvot [unclear] - I guess we conflated the two, but hopefully we answered both of them.
I want to ask this question - this is going to be something that we didn't prepare for, but something that I think is a good and important question, and my wife would like for me to ask it too. Is a question by [Deborah 47:42] who asks, do women traditionally focus more on world 2 - relationships, and men more on world 1? Is that connected to the way women are created separately in world 2?
Rabbi Fohrman: Oh, whoa, is that connected to the way woman are created separately in world 2? What - I don't understand that, can you explain it?
Immanuel Shalev: I think that means men and women are separated - woman was created on her own in world 2, whereas man and woman were created together in world 1.
Rabbi Fohrman: Oh I see, in other words does that - would that affect why woman is created separately in world 2 rather than together in world 1? You know, look I don't know - I can answer this question in one of two ways. I can answer it in terms of a gut level answer of what I suspect, or I can answer this question in terms of what the evidence suggests to me from the Biblical text, from looking at world 1 and world 2.
As far as evidence is concerned I don't know if I would say that there is evidence that woman comes across as a more inherently world 2 being than man. I know that a lot of people think that, I know that that's one of our traditional concepts of femininity, that femininity is more relationship based and less creativity based, and that men are more creativity based and less relationship based. I know that that's out there. I just don't know if I see evidence for it in world 1 or world 2.
In other words, just to play it out a little bit, in world 1 - both world 1 and world 2 include men and women. In world 1 each one views the other in world 1 terms. So in world 1 Zachar u'nekeiva barah otom - male and female are created. Interestingly the word for their being created is male and female, rather than man and woman. So male and female - Zachar u'nekeiva, actually functions like a laser on their reproductive capability, on how it is that they reproduce. Almost like - because that's actually how they view each other in world 1. If I'm a pure world 1 being, devoted to creativity, then again, if I'm a man how do I look at woman? Here's my chance to create, because it takes two to tango and I can't create on my own. If I'm a woman, and I'm a pure world 1 person, again, how do I look at man? I can't create without him.
That was really the point that I was making, by the way, in, I think, Audio 5, for those of you who got up to it, which is the tragedy of Eve after being banished from the Garden. Landing in world 1 alienated from world 2 values. So the tragedy of both Adam and Eve is intimacy without the currency of world 2, and then it just becomes I use you in order to be able to create. So; V'ha'Adam yadah et Chava ishto - so man is using woman almost as a thing, and she's an it - the word Et is usually the connector between a subject and the direct object. So man is the subject but using her sort of as an object. Then she turns around and it's; Kaniti ish et Hashem, when she talks about her ability to create this child, and there is that Et for direct object used with G-d and man is just left out entirely. Almost as if she used him and doesn't even have to relate to him and has this child.
So there is a - I think there's a tragedy there, but it seems to me that the evidence is that both - certainly if you look at the Cain and Hevel story, both man and woman in that story are very capable of being world 1 beings. I would say though, that if you're a world 1 being, man may express being a world 1 being in a different way than woman may express [being 52:10] a world 1 being.
For example, a man doesn't have the ability to biologically have a child, so Cain is a very world 1 being, but how does he express it? So he expresses it in terms of agriculture. He can plant, he's a farmer, so he's got these vegetables that he's created that he doesn't want to let go [to/of 52:30], because he's obsessively attached to this produce that he's made. Because this is the meaning of his life, he's produced this, he's the creator. I talk about this in The Beast That Crouches at the Door in part 2 of it. So that's how he expresses being a world 1 creature.
Chava expresses being a world 1 creature in terms of her biological ability to create, but it's the same thing. So Chava is a world 1 creature because; Kaniti ish et Hashem - I've acquired this man with G-d. Again, this is my meaning of life and it's this overly obsessive - it's mine, acquisitive way of seeing it.
So I think both men and women can be subject to the folly of world 1 issues and leaving world 2 behind, and probably both men and women can also get lost in world 2 without focusing on world 1 creative things. But, in as much as women can have children and men can't, the way you look like when you are failing or succeeding in each of these things is different.
Again - and I go to Cain and Chava are both struggling with the same world 1 issues but they're looking very different in it. So it's [unclear 53:43]…
Immanuel Shalev: I think [unclear] in the curses themselves; you know Odom gets different curses than Chava does.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah, Odom's curses are in terms of his relationship with land, and Chava's curses are in terms of a relationship with children. So it's true, but it's the same curse. It's a struggle with creativity. So I think both men and women have the same fundamental issue, which is, how do I balance my drive to create with my drive to relate? That's the same issue for both of them, you don't get a pass just because you're a woman and now, oh, so I'm more relationship-focused so everything is good. No, you're also more child-focused and you can relate in pure world 1 terms to that, and then you're stuck.
So - I don't know, that would be my answer to her.
Immanuel Shalev: I think we're in a good place to handle [Yehuda's 54:32] question who asks how is Adam and Eve's broken relationship improved as they leave the Garden as intimate enemies? Is there a lesson for us in the aftermath?
Rabbi Fohrman: One more time, what's the question? How is…
Immanuel Shalev: How is Adam and Eve's broken relationship improved as they leave the Garden as intimate enemies? Is there a lesson for us in the aftermath?
Rabbi Fohrman: Oh, well, I don't know how much time we have to answer that. But one of these days I hope to write a book on this or do a - maybe we'll get to it in Aleph Beta too. But to me this is the continuing story of the Keruvim. To me, history opens with the great tragedy of the tree of knowledge story and the banishment from Eden, and the rest of history or the rest of Biblical history, is that attempt to improve that relationship. Adam and Eve die, but the legacy continues and the challenge is that after you've eaten from the tree and after you - and the tree kind of spills its - infects you with its poison. And the poison is that idea that I can be the determinant of good and evil and that this is the way things look like to me and I can't along with you anymore and I can become an intimate enemy with you.
So THE challenge of mankind after that is how do I repair that? How do I repair that?
You can look at the rest of Biblical history through that lens as a continuing effort to repair that. Look at all the sibling rivalry relationships that so plague Genesis, which is Yosef and his brothers, Yaakov and Eisav, all of those issues, Yishmael and Avraham, are really going to be…
Immanuel Shalev: Rachel and Leah…
Rabbi Fohrman: What? Rachel and Leah - go to our Tisha B'Av course, where if you're reading between the lines you'll see the tree of knowledge issues really, really there. We didn't talk about tree of knowledge in the course, but it's there in the background. This is the issue.
The beautiful thing is, is that the same way that the Keruvim become the symbol of it, with Adam and Eve the Keruvim continue to become the symbol. Of course the next time we meet the Keruvim is where? We meet it on the Ark, in the Mishkan. Well what's the Mishkan? The Mishkan is supposed to be a kind of successful culmination to that quest, a Mikdash is a successful culmination of the quest.
(A) How do you build a Mikdash? The one thing you can't have is - you can't use hewn stone, why? Ki charbecha hanafta aleha va'techalleleha - you can't use the sword. Well what's the sword? The sword is the corrupted Kruv - remember that, how do you spell Kruv? Chaf, Reish, Beis. How do you spell sword? Chet, Reish, Beis. It's just the corrupted Kruv. It's that sword between the two angels, and that's the one thing that you can't bring into the abode of the angels. Metaphorically what that means is that in the Mikdash, war and conflict as a way of solving human issues, just doesn't really cut it. You have to somehow figure out a different way to get along with those you need to get along with.
It's too much to do in this webinar, but the - I believe that there is a hidden journey of the Keruvim - these angels, throughout Genesis, moving all the way into the story of the Mishkan. I'll just tease it a very little bit, which is I mentioned to you that Kruv gets corrupted into Cherev - into sword, but there's other interesting corruptions of Kruv, or other versions of Kruv. Think about the things that people in love fight over, brothers fight over, colleagues fight over. What is it that they fight over in Genesis? So they actually fight over two different things. They fight over Berachot - which are blessings, think about Yaakov and Eisav and the blessings and all of the wealth and all of that, [so it's going to come down 58:42] from G-d and from parents. They also fight over who is firstborn, and that's one of those themes and who is seen as the child leader in the family.
So if you think about that, how do you spell Bechor? Beit, Chaf, Reish. How do spell Beracha? Beis, Reish, Chaf. How do spell Kruv? So the Keruvim are the symbols of these people who can get along but the two things that get in the way are the various permutations of that word, which is how do you manage the shoals? How do you row through the river and avert the shoals of Beracha and Bechor along the way? That's the great story of Yosef and his brothers, and Yaakov and Eisav.
If you look - the kind of homework question I'll give you for the advance students who want to look at this in Hebrew and see, is look at the story of the construction of the Ark in Terumah - in the beginning of Parshat Terumah. Look at the Keruvim there, and you will find language parallels that will take you over and over again back to the great stories of conflict between people who should have been in love with each other in Genesis. The story of Yosef and his brothers, and the story of Yaakov and Eisav. Those intertextual parallels seem to be suggesting that those stories need to find some sort of happy culmination in order for the Aron with its Keruvim to do its work.
So those are my thoughts there.
Immanuel Shalev: Great. Okay this question I really, really liked, and I was struggling with it personally, this is [Jonah's 60:31] question. Where do you believe one's moral compass fits in the vastness of all this? Moral compass presumably comes from inside us just like our desires. Morals are clearly not the same as G-d's - I'm sorry - morals are clearly not the same as G-d's will, otherwise we wouldn't need the Torah, can we rely on it at all or do we abandon it and focus solely on the Torah?
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay, so this is actually something you and I have discussed Immanuel, so this is a very interesting question. Let me just kind of think about this. The issue which - who is it Jonah, is raising this? Who is this…
Immanuel Shalev: Jonah, yeah.
Rabbi Fohrman: [Unclear 61:22] interesting - the question that Jonah is raising is what role does our own moral intuition play in all of this? That's a question both in terms of, I guess, meaning of life and it's also a question really in terms of the Torah itself. The question is should we be the kind of people that can just rely on our moral compass, or should we be the kind of people that look blindly to the Torah and ignore our moral compass because we just take direction from the Torah?
It's a very good question. It's a question which for me, I think at different stages of my life, I had seen differently. I can tell you how I see it now. Again, I don't know if I can - I wonder if I could prove it to you, it's a good question, I don't know if I can prove it to you. I'll let Immanuel answer it while I mull over whether I can prove it to you. But certainly in the olden days - the real truth is it's a question that has preoccupied me for many years. Back in the late '80s I wrote a paper on this which I don't know if I ever - still have, in philosophical terms it's another version of Euthyphro question which is one of Plato's dialogues. It's a little complicated to get into here so I'm not going to throw that in, but if you want to read up on the Euthyphro question, you can look at it, it's another way of phrasing the question.
But certainly in the olden days I kind of thought that our moral intuitions are not to be trusted and that's the whole point of the Torah, it's to - we're not good arbiters of good and evil, and if anything - again, the Etz Hada'as seems to suggest that we're not good arbiters of good and evil. Yet, I would say one thing about the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which is that I think it's too sweeping a statement to make that we're not good arbiters of good and evil. We're not good arbiters of whether or not we ourselves are good or evil, but we're sort of good arbiters of whether other people are good and evil, assuming that we know that we know their inner world.
Or let me actually pull back and put it to you this way. When we judge ourselves we face a certain challenge and when we judge others we face another challenge, and both are real challenges but they're opposite challenges. When we judge our own lives and we say, so what does good and evil mean? Is it good for me to leave a note on that car that I smashed in, or not and nobody will know the difference? I rationalize to myself - like we talked about in the course - of why really it's good for me not to leave the note. I may convince myself of that. If I convince myself of that let's look at the situation - so I've convinced myself of this but most objective people can look at me and say, he's just creating a rationalization. It's something which I can't see because I'm blinded by my own desires, but other people who aren't blinded by those desires can see that for what it is.
So getting back to Jonah's question, would we say that others can trust their intuition about my situation, the answer is yes. Going back to Rabbi Weinberg's idea of what a Rebbi is there for, what's a Rebbi there for? A Rebbi is there to be that objective voice, who doesn't have a horse in the race, who doesn't have the same desires as you, who can go and say, hey, what you're saying makes sense to me, or I think you're lying to yourself. So there is a kind of intuition that another person could have.
On the other hand, another - the person from the outside is missing a different kind of thing, which only I have access to, which is that they're missing the information of my inner world. All they see is my outer actions, they don't really see what my intentions are, they don't really see what my long term goals are, they don't really see the reasons why I might be doing what I'm doing. So they're not really in a position to judge either.
So to me the real answer - what feels right to me - and Jonah's answer - is that it's difficult to judge questions of good and evil in this world. We have limitations. We have limitations in judging ourselves, and we have limitations of judging others, limitations which G-d Himself doesn't have. Nevertheless, I believe that one of the things that Tzelem Elokim means - or - I can't say I believe one of the things it means. But I suspect - let me put it to you - that one of the things that Tzelem Elokim implies is that part of being created in the image of G-d is probably not just that we are - well let me put it to you this way. We're creative like G-d, we value relationships - we seek relationships as G-d does, we are created as G-d is. To some extent that means that we have values that are similar to G-d, because G-d has those values too. G-d actualizes those values in G-d's own Mind, He made the world, He seeks out a relationship with us.
So I think what that means is that on some level we're on the same page as G-d, where our core values are similar to G-d and that's our basis to some extent for trusting our intuitions about what matters and what's good and what's not good. Yet, we face terrible roadblocks in actually applying this in our lives and that's one of the things that the Torah can help us with, which is being some sort of objective measure that we can hold ourselves to in trying to negotiate that.
So what do you think?
Immanuel Shalev: Yeah, I'm going to jump in with my own take. I think very similarly to you as well, but for me a lot of it - the approach I think that a lot of people try to encourage me to do is to surrender completely to Torah. Whereas - as if to say like you can't determine good and evil, you can't determine - that's the Etz Hada'as issue, you kind of just have to surrender, pick a Rabbi, do what he says. That, I think, is a bit of a false surrender.
But a different Rebbi of mine in Israel when I approached him with this particular issue said to me - he's like, Immanuel, you only have these tools. Like you have the tools of your intellect, you have the tools of your own choices, there's nothing else, you can't really go outside of yourself and completely hand back over your freewill over to G-d and say, no thank you. It's all up to you.
Because there are so many different people who are going to tell you what the Torah says - like we had that question earlier tonight, what do you do if this Rabbi tells you it's all Halacha, don't worry about what the Torah says. Then you have Rabbi Fohrman who is telling you that the meaning of life is some other thing. So you're kind of always going to have to judge to some extent what is most compelling to you, you're never going to be able to get away from that.
But at the same time just to reference the Tisha B'Av course that we did recently, because I think most people here probably have seen it. But Rachel when she reconciles with Leah - when Rachel saw Leah's - when Rachel saw things only from her perspective and Leah kind of presented hers and Rachel responded; Lachen yishkav imach ha'lailah - I finally see your perspective. She didn't consult her Rabbi and she didn't find a particular verse to tell her to see things that way. I think the Torah guides us to be able to kind of step outside ourselves and to step outside of our desires, to try and see the larger, truer picture. And so many Mitzvot and Halachot are all about trying to help you to do that properly, to discipline your creativity, to make sure that you are not only looking at it in tunnel vision, but that you can see things from a wider perspective.
But I think no matter what, you're going to have to make certain choices and your moral compass has to guide you.
I also think that the moral compass helps us interpret - it helps us to decide what's the compelling way to read a particular verse and also helps us to reconcile. Like if we have - if we're reading a really difficult part of Torah, let's say we're reading about female servitude, you kind of have to take a second look and say well what's going on here? I think some of the best material that you've done, Rabbi Fohrman, has been in confronting your own moral compass and aligning it with the text. Saying, but what is the Torah teaching you?
At the same time you also have to be really, really careful not to contort the Torah's interpretation. So you're kind of - it's a really scary path and a very - you have to kind of walk this narrow, scary path.
But the only thing you really can be guided by is intellectual honesty, I think, or emotional honesty, or - something with the word honesty in it.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah, and when push comes to shove I guess the real question is when the Torah seems to leave you in a place where your own moral intuition wouldn't take you - those are the real hard times in life. What greater example of that than the Akeidah itself - for Avraham. So those are the really scary parts of life.
I want to call your attention if I can, Immanuel and the rest of you, to a question that Deborah has - I'm going to put this question to Immanuel since he can actually talk and the rest of you can't. But you can write in, the rest of you, your thoughts, at the bottom. So Deborah says, can't the desire for relationships be just as distracting and cause just as much trouble as the desire for physical creativity? What do you say to that? One more time. Can't the desire for relationships be just as distracting and cause just as much trouble as the desire for physical creativity?
Any by the way, you see my bias over here, right, because earlier on I really presented it the other way, which is that - in terms of how world number 1 can get in the way of world number 2 in so many ways. In the course itself I presented that. But Deborah fearlessly comes back and says, one second, sometimes maybe world 1 trumps world 2 and world 2 can be a distraction? I actually put this out to you, can you see any examples in which Deborah's point might be true? What are the real world examples or are there any, in which the desire for relationships is just as distracting and causes just as much trouble as the desire for physical creativity?
Immanuel, what do you say?
Immanuel Shalev: Yeah, I think it's very compelling. I don't know if I can give you this amazing, fantastic example, but to me it reminds me of being a teenager. Just like you want to hang out with your friends all the time, you're not all that interested in studying for your SATs and in building up your own career. Yeah, that's my brief example.
But I think that world 1 and world 2 - just to go back…
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah, but - and it's - the great example is the - when the desire to become accepted becomes so overwhelming, is a kind of perversion of world 2 desire to connect and become whole with. Again, this gets to really some of the points which were making even in the audios, which is that if you go into world 2 without a basis of world 1, so world 2 can be problematic when that's all you have. It sort of self-destructs. Which is like, if I don't have any sense of identity and all I'm trying to do is fit in with the crowd because I'm obsessively focused on my world 2 relationship world and my social media world and all of that, so I have nothing to contribute to the world any more, is one kind of example.
Immanuel Shalev: Do you hear that? Rabbi Fohrman says, get off Facebook.
Rabbi Fohrman: [Laughs]. [That I can smile - if you are addicted to it 73:58]. But I guess another question is if you think about in a work environment, I think this is something which companies struggle with. Because companies are essentially world 1 beasts. A company exists for world 1. It tolerates world 2 in order to exist, but it kind of inverts normal relationships, a company. Because in a normal person, world 1 more serves world 2, but in a company, world 2 serves world 1. The company is there to bring something to the world, so the values in a company may - I'm wondering what does Deborah's point mean within the context of a company? I just think it's an interesting kind of thing. Can the desire for relationships be distracting and cause just as much trouble as the desire for your creativity, what does that mean in the world of work?
In particular, imagine a law firm, or imagine a technology company that's developing a new kind of touch screen and is on the cusp of putting this out into the world. But they have software developer that everyone loves to pieces but can't do - can't write a decent line of code, just doesn't have that ability and they're having trouble bringing that thing to market. The question is do you fire the person that everybody loves to pieces? What's the right answer for that company? I think that's the point Deborah's making.
So it's complicated stuff.
Immanuel Shalev: Great. Okay, next question. This is from…
Rabbi Fohrman: By the way, I don't know if we let anybody know, do we have a - what's our timeframe by the way for this webinar? Do we have a timeframe on the webinar?
Immanuel Shalev: We're technically two hours, do you want to go all two hours?
Rabbi Fohrman: Whatever you like, so I'm good, as long as know. Okay, go ahead.
Immanuel Shalev: People are still here, it seems like they haven't left us.
Rabbi Fohrman: You guys, if we bore you, feel free to [wake out 76:16] on us, but we'll stay with you as long as you stay with us. Okay, go ahead.
Immanuel Shalev: [Jack] writes, Rabbi Fohrman, I'm a hardworking businessman who has been working in the financial sector for the past 20 years. I have very much related to the aspects of meaning of life that had to do with world 1, but I was very uncomfortable with the parts of world 2. I feel like I work very hard to support my wife and children and to provide them with every opportunity I can. Is that enough to fulfill my world 2 obligations?
Rabbi Fohrman: Um, you know what, before I answer that - I mean the fellow is pretty anonymous right? We just have a first name here right? So I'm interested in polling the audience here. I'll give you my answer to this but I'm curious as to what you guys say. Immanuel, can you read our question for our audience again and if you guys could just give me a - you can either give a yes or a no answer, or you can give a - you can qualify your answer in some kind of way. Immanuel, how would phrase the question? I would invite others to respond in your answer box below…
Immanuel Shalev: You mean just repeat the question?
Rabbi Fohrman: What's our name, Joe?
Immanuel Shalev: It's Jack.
Rabbi Fohrman: Jack. So you can just say, Jack Cohen and Jack - nothing personal for you, we're just using your idea here as kind of as a sounding board, but I'm curious as to what you guys say. Read it again.
Immanuel Shalev: Rabbi Fohrman, I'm a hardworking businessman who has been working in the financial sector for the past 20 years. I have very much related to the aspects of meaning of life that had to do with world 1, but I was very uncomfortable with the parts about world 2. I feel like I work very hard to support my wife and children and to provide them with every opportunity I can. Is that enough to fulfill my world 2 obligations?
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. So what do you guys say? Is that enough to fulfill world 2 obligations or not? I'll give you guys five more seconds and then I'll just jump in here. I'm not even looking so I don't want to be biased by what you say, but I'm going to look at your responses later.
Immanuel Shalev: Oh wow, you're going to like one of them.
Rabbi Fohrman: Oh yeah?
Immanuel Shalev: Yeah, it's an idea that you referenced many times before.
Rabbi Fohrman: Oh really?
Yeah, so I see it, just quickly looking - I had to give in, I couldn't bear to [unclear 78:46] the response to. I mean, my short answer would be no, that you can't take that shortcut. Now that's not to say that what you do in world 1 isn't valuable because of world 2, it is valuable. In other words, your world 1 stuff is important in world 1 and it's a great contribution for world 2, but ultimately I don't think the creation of an environment for a relationship is the substitute for engaging in the relationship itself. And again, I think I mentioned Cat's in the Cradle and Harry Chapin which I think was there in the comments…
Immanuel Shalev: The comment, yeah.
Rabbi Fohrman: Which is that all you have to do is listen to Cat's in the Cradle and I think that's the answer, which is our Cat's in the Cradle guy thinks that world 1 stuff is the most important thing and certainly would say I'm providing for my wife and my kids. But at some point in life when your kid grows up and doesn't have the time for you, and you realize my boy was just like me, Dad, my boy was just like me. There's that pit in your stomach and it's awful, it's just awful.
I'm reminded of Emily Dickinson in one of her beautiful poems about remorse - and you can look it up online, I don't have it in front of me. But remorse is like the past set on fire, like with a match, and it burns and it stings and there's just no way to take it back. Those are the really awful things in life when you look back and you say, what have I done, I have cheated myself out of world 2.
Again, before the midlife crisis it feels like okay, it feels like I can live on this - and by the way, I'm not just speaking with Jack, I'm speaking with myself too. I mean, I'm a very world 1 guy also and all sorts of world 1 things I'm doing; Aleph Beta and the company and putting all this together and coming up with stuff and writing books and all of this. It's very easy to get drunk on world 1, very, very easy, and to get so much feeling of goodness out of it and then - and you're providing things to the world. But to what extent do you cheat yourself if you don't nurture those relationships? You could say, yeah, I'm the kind of person that feels more comfortable playing in world 1, but I think what the Torah is telling you is there is another world and there's a natural evolution. If you cut yourself short you're just cheating yourself and [shallowing 81:27] out your natural experience of life.
Now that having been said, which might sound like a downer to Jack, what I would ask Jack is, are you really sure that you're as derelict in world 2 as you think you are? Because maybe you don't spend as much time in world 2 as you like, maybe you don't spend as much time in world 2 as in world 1, but again, the currency of world 2, are you sure that you're not making any deposits in that currency? Do you ever tuck your kids into bed? When you come home - even if you come home late - do you make eye contact with your child? Do you smile with them? Do you ever ask them about their day? Are there moments of connection where you can delight in your child, where you can delight in your wife, or she senses that you're taking care of her in some way?
Again, there's - love is something which we convey in all sorts of different ways, it's a very personal thing, some people - Gary Chapman, in his book The Five Love Languages, talks about different ways that we convey love. So it's not - you may say, oh I don't feel like I convey love because I don't do x, y and z but different people have different ways of conveying love. For some people the way you convey love is through gifts, through - other people the way you convey love is through touch. For other people the way you convey love is by spending time with each other. There's different love languages and sometimes you might say, well I'm not good with - I'm lacking with my wife because I don't do x, y, and z, but it may be that you're conveying love in a different kind of language.
So you may not be as derelict as you think you are in world 2. But as far as the principle of the thing, I think that it's a dangerous thing to feel that I can use world 1 currency to fulfill my debts in world 2. It just doesn't work. It can set up world number 2, and it can make world number 2 more comfortable, it can provide an environment for world number 2, but world number 2 at some level still needs to happen - is my intuition on that.
Immanuel Shalev: I think that that's a key there also. I think that [Cherie 83:53] pointed this out as well about - that really screamed out to me in the question was that Jack says is that enough to fulfill my world 2 obligations? And to me that's a little bit like the concept of world 1 currency in world 2, exactly as you're saying. I don't - world 2 shouldn't really be an obligation, I think. It has inherent meaning as well, and I would encourage Jack to explore some of that meaning in world 2.
But maybe - so it's funny, because a lot of people [unclear 84:28] on Jack in the comments, but…
Rabbi Fohrman: They what?
Immanuel Shalev: No, a lot of people were critical of Jack, but I think this reminds me a lot of the beginning of the fourth podcast episode where you kind of said - when you put that very scientific poll out, who is going to choose just world 1 or who is going to choose just world 2? Most people say they're going to choose world 2, they would choose world 2 over world 1 if they had to make that choice, but most people act, most people focus, on their world 1. Even though they…
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah that was a sobering thing. I remember when somebody in our office made that point, and it was like, oh my gosh, that's true, and how awful, but it's true. You know, I was listening to - I guess [unclear 85:15] the worse kind of data is surveys, because people give the answer that they think is acceptable to the survey provider. So you can say you believe that world 2 is really important but it doesn't mean you don't invest primarily in world 1, which is a scary thing.
Immanuel Shalev: Yeah. I guess maybe I'd ask this question - and it looks like some people are heading to [bed 85:39], so we should wrap up an hour and a half in. But my question is, is how do you find that balance? How do you find the balance between world 1 and world 2? My cheat/answer/suggestion to you is - does Shabbos play a role? Because if Shabbos is the transition from world 1 to world 2, it's interesting that Shabbos repeats every seven days. So…
Rabbi Fohrman: Mhmm hmm. Yeah, it almost seems like the Torah is giving you that thing, which is that maybe you don't need to spend as much time in world number 2 as in world number 1, I wonder if it's a one [unclear 86:16] show, at some level. Maybe that works even in our day, can you spend one-seventh of your day in world number 2? The truth is I think if most of us spent one-seventh of our day in world number 2 we'd be doing pretty good. If you can spend one-seventh of your day, of your waking hours, focused on your family, focused on your wife, focused on your kids, really present and there with them and be able to shut out world number 1, I think we'd - it doesn't seem like a lot, but maybe that - I wonder? Maybe that works? That's an interesting kind of thing.
And also there's another thing which is that to some extent this world is built to tantalize us towards world number 1, there's a lot of world number 1 incentives. I don't just mean money, I just mean in terms of - this is something which we talked about last year in the Game course, which we really shouldn't get into now. But there's something about this world, in as much as it's a world of change and it's a world of flux and it's a world of developing, that leads itself towards work and development and creativity. The joy of relationships is something which is there but it's like dessert, it's hard to - it's like you can't sit and just eat your whole meal as dessert, if you just sit and try to spend months on end just enjoying the wonderfulness of connection it doesn't work. Connection is something that requires almost separation from and then connection and separation and connection, in order for it to remain dynamic and powerful. So that's an intriguing thought, Immanuel, that notion of the ratio of Shabbos to the workweek.
Immanuel Shalev: I was thinking that the other day, I was thinking like, when am I going to tell Rabbi Fohrman that I'm going to take a Sabbatical year, and I expect to be paid. [Laughs]
Rabbi Fohrman: That's right.
Immanuel Shalev: Okay, well thank you everyone for joining us, I think that's all the time we have - well that's the time that you guys have, I think. Maybe we should ask one final question of the audience, I don't know if there's anything that you want to know, Rabbi Fohrman before we…
Rabbi Fohrman: Well did you enjoy the course? It was a little bit different for us in Aleph Beta where we focus more on 10-minute things, and on MEALS, which are [accrual 88:57] of 10-minute videos. So first of all, I'm curious to hear, this was AUDIO did that work for you? The second thing is this was longer than our 10-minute things, this was five and a half/six hours and maybe you didn't get through all of it yet, it's going to be going away soon and hopefully coming back in some kind of video form. But would you like to do more podcasts of this? Is this a style that you'd like us to continue to invest our limited resources here in Aleph Beta? Or would you prefer specifically investing them in different areas, such as our videos, or even books?
So if you guys want to vote for more podcasts, less podcasts, more videos, more books and written material, I'm interested in the thoroughly unscientific survey data that we would get from your…
Immanuel Shalev: I should tell you guys also we read everything you write - it's sad that we don't have all the time in the world to respond to everything but everything that you write us we read. So if you want to share thoughts and opinions with us, it means so much to us and it also really helps us to create material for you better. So if you'd like to share thoughts here or probably, so we can save them, you should feel free to email email@example.com. As I said, we read everything, we don't necessarily get to respond to everything, but everything you write we read.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yes, and I do appreciate that feedback very much, it makes a big difference. We're in it here for you and it makes a big difference how what we're doing speaks to you, so please do let us know.
So thanks for coming to this - thanks for putting up with all the hours in the podcast, I hope that you found it meaningful, the investment of time that you made. It was an honor to spend the time with you and to get a chance to kind of schmooze with you here in this webcam. I hope it's a project that we can do again in some way, shape or form soon.
Immanuel Shalev: Great. Thank you guys…
Rabbi Fohrman: Please email us and very much looking forward to hearing any further thoughts you might have. Have a good night guys.
Immanuel Shalev: Good night.
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