“We Just Thought You Knew!”

25 Mar

A teacher once explained a concept using an iceberg as an example, saying how you could only see part of it; the rest of it was hidden. After the end of his brilliant parable, one student raised their hand and asked, “What’s an iceberg?”

Sometimes you run into a problem where you really don’t know what the basic concept, but all the commentaries keep going as if you do. For example, today is the Fast of the Firstborn. What does that mean? Well, it’s more complicated this year, because Passover starts on a Saturday night. You can’t fast on Shabbat (Friday night to Saturday night), because that’s intended to be a happy time. Okay, move it to Friday. Nope, because you’re doing prep for Shabbat, and you don’t want sadness to get in the way of that. So it’s shifted back to Thursday. Sunrise to sunset, you’ll fast.

Great! What does “fast” mean?

This sounds like a “duh” question, but it’s kinda important. Does “fast” mean just “no food” or “no food and drink” or “nothing passes through the mouth” (i.e., smoking)? This is not a “minor fast day,” because there are four other days that qualify… not this one. So what does a “fast” mean? I checked online, with three respected sources, and the answer is… “it depends.” What is your particular tradition? What did your parents do? What does your rabbi say?

There’s a joke that says, “Two Jews, three opinions,” but it makes it very frustrating. You don’t wanna approach your rabbi with the question, because it makes you sound like an idiot. So in the end, you’ll just do what you want to do, basing it on whatever’s convenient. Some helpful rabbi wrote down “since it’s on a Thursday, if you are even “minorly inconvenienced,” you can get out of fasting. So I’m going to go with “no food until sundown” restriction today, but still drink water… because that’s what I’ve done before for minor fast days, even though other authorities go through the “no food and drink from sunrise to sunset” rule.

“Is this the sort of fast I want, a day when a person mortifies himself?

Isaiah 58:5a (CJB)

So I have to ask myself, “why am I going through all this legal hoops if I’m just going to do what I wanted to anyway?” First off, because my wife reminded me of it–I was going to blow it off, like I have many years–but once reminded, I feel obligated. And so I’m left with this strange “half-assed” fast.

When I was teaching live, I would frequently remind me, “There are no stupid questions,” because if you don’t know it, chances are, the person behind you doesn’t know it either. The teacher needs to read the room; if the student looks confused, address it. But how do you know what they don’t know?

Using sci-fi as an example, there are details you have to address, those you have to skim, and those you just throw out there for flavor. Faster-than-light travel is currently impossible, but we understand faster-than-sound travel, so you can address incredible speed and g-forces, but then you skim over the actual device that makes it possible, and then have people puking from breaking the light barrier. Why? Doesn’t matter, it just emphasizes that it’s difficult. The trick is knowing what is important enough to address and what is important to skim.

There’s no real answer for this question, so I’ll throw it to you? How you do determine what’s important when explaining a concept? How you do react to a “stupid question?” Let me know in the comments below! And if you liked the sci-fi example, check out one of my books and find out more about how I address faster-than-light technology. Or if you’re not that interested, simply download one of my stories, and you’ll get a similar (but lesser) flavor!

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