Larissa MacFarquhar in The New Yorker on The Talmudic Life and Tragic Death of Aaron Swartz

Larissa MacFarquhar in The New Yorker published a long profile of what we call the The Talmudic Life and Tragic Death of the young technology visionary Aaron Swartz (REQUIEM FOR A DREAM: Aaron Swartz was brilliant and beloved. But the people who knew him best saw a darker side).

We see his life as Talmudic because he was such a thorough questioner of all sides of reality. The profile describes Aaron's persistent Talmudic temperament:
He believed that there were objective facts about what made people’s lives better, and that these were the facts that mattered. He disliked any analysis that attributed social consequence to amorphous, subjective, unmeasurable, unfixable causes.

“I think the essential fight of his life was to never be satisfied that he’d figured out the fight of his life,” Ben Wikler says. “He was constantly trying to figure out how to be more effective and what he should be working on. He had a beautiful willingness to change his mind completely.” It is a vertiginous thing to have so much freedom—to be always self-skeptical, always testing the reasons for your beliefs, always prepared to abandon them for something better. If you can do anything you want, then every day becomes an existential problem—an empty space of possibility that has no ceiling but also no walls and no floor.

“Much more than any particular thing he did, the self-reflection and self-doubt,” Alec Resnick says. “Being willing to say, ‘All of these things are bad, but we can work on making something better.’ To be preoccupied by the ethical ramifications of your actions, and to strip away most of the limits on how, ethically, you can behave.” To think continuously about changing the world is to spend your life looking at what is bad in it. To be attached to the world is to be attached to the world as it is, and not for any reason, because reasons can always be countered. To consider the world from first principles, to think about how well it would work if everything were different, is to be ready to throw away everything you know. Radical idealism and a sense of limitless possibility are the brighter facets of absolute rejection...
We see his death as Talmudic because that is how his father came to terms with it, i.e., the angel of death made a mistake, a scenario taken directly from the Talmud... as this sad sad article concludes, citing Aaron's father and the Talmud text, without further comment:
There’s this passage in Gemara about whether the angel of death can make a mistake. Gemara is part of the Talmud, and so the—I think about that. You know, it just doesn’t seem to make sense to me. But I don’t know, I—I just think it’s not a question I’ll ever answer.
--Robert Swartz

Rabbi Joseph, when he came to the following verse, wept: But there is that is swept away without judgment. He said: Is there anyone who passes away before one’s allotted time?1—Yes, as in the story heard by Rabbi Bibi bar Abaye, who was frequently visited by the Angel of death. Once the latter said to his messenger: Go, bring me Miriam, the women’s hairdresser! He went and brought him Miriam, the children’s nurse. Said he to him:2 I told thee Miriam, the women’s hairdresser. He answered: If so, I will take her back. Said he to him: Since thou hast brought her, let her be added.3 But how were you able to get her?4—She was holding a shovel in her hand and was heating and raking the oven. She took it and put it on her foot and burnt herself; thus her luck was impaired and I brought her. Said Rabbi Bibi bar Abaye to him: Have ye permission to act thus? He answered him: Is it not written: “There is that is swept away without judgment”?

1 I.e., although the person has committed no sin to merit shortening of life.
2 I.e., the Angel of death to his messenger.
3 I.e., to the dead.
4 Since it was not yet her time to die.

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