Rick and Morty, the pop culture juggernaut, rivals animation giants The Simpsons, Family Guy, and South Park. It takes mind-bending sci-fi concepts to the next level, and its irreverent satire appeals to teens and adults around the world. Religion has not escaped Rick and Morty’s targets. In the newest episode, Rick: A Mort Well Lived, the clever satire demonstrates some of Judaism’s most mystical and fundamental concepts.
In previous episodes, Rick and Morty have played a virtual reality simulation called Roy: A Life Well Lived. The game immerses the player in a completely mundane life of Roy, from birth to death, doing completely ordinary things i.e. playing football, working at a carpet store, getting cancer, etc. The joke being that as video games get more realistic, they’ll become less exciting. But we’ll still fork out $$ to escape our reality.
But in the newest Rick and Morty adventure, the video game malfunctions, taking Morty’s consciousness and splitting it amongst the 5 billion non-player characters (NPCs) and making him forget who he really is. Rick is forced to enter the game and convince all these NPCs that reality is a video game and that their true identity is of a 14-year-old boy. At that point, Rick’s mission is regarded as a religious cult.
Love your neighbor as yourself
As more and more NPCs realize they are a part of the collective Morty entity, the NPCs start to not only identify with each other but empathize with each other. For example, one of the awakened NPCs finds her dad has “converted” to Mortyism. He asks her if she’s still mad from shaming her earlier in her journey. Her response is, “You are me, and why would I be mad at myself.”
Judaism has the famous mitzvah, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Many people miss the profound depth of this statement. Though we may not be a fractional being of a mind-trapped 14-year-old boy, we are a piece of God. Judaism believes that all of humanity is rooted in the Creator of the world and our souls are an incorruptible spark of the Infinite. Everyone is created in God’s image.
So to truly exercise the mitzvah, we should be treating our neighbors not just how we’d like to be treated, but loving them as if they literally are ourselves, because every person has a spark of Godliness and deserves respect. These moments in the episode nail the Jewish concept quite effectively, even if they were trying to make fun of it.
More than This World
The idea that our reality is a facsimile for another reality has been a subject of philosophy for centuries. Twenty years ago, this concept blew audiences’ minds in The Matrix. Judaism holds this concept is fundamentally true.
However, where Rick and Morty uses the idea as a funny obstacle for Morty to gain freedom, Judaism views our reality as a place to become the best version of ourselves. The Mishna says, “Rabbi Yakov said: this world is like a lobby before a banquet hall. Prepare yourself in the lobby so that you may enter the banquet hall” (Ethics of the Fathers, 4:16).
Our mission isn’t to just have the best life – it’s to have the best eternity. Where some may live by the idea, “the person with the most toys at the end wins,” Judaism believes you can’t take any of it with you… except your good choices. Those last forever. It’s those good choices that build our connection to the next world.
The Game of Life
Don’t mistakenly think you should get through life in this world as quickly as possible in order to get to that banquet hall. In the show Rick tries to convince as many of the NPCs as possible to leave Earth (and the boundaries of the video game) so Morty will wake up. But Judaism wants us to make the most of our time here. We’re here to perfect the world as much as possible. By doing that we become partners with God in creation, opposed to using the world for our amusement.
As the mundane but hyper realistic video game, Roy: A Life Well Lived may seem like an absurdity, escapes from reality are becoming more abundant. Facebook’s Metaverse, addiction to the artifice of social media, even our news sources that cater to our closely guarded echo chambers, these all insulate us in the world we want to live in, as opposed to confronting reality and fixing the world we inhabit.
Rick and Morty has rooted itself in the concept of alternate universes. Because he can’t face the reality of his past, Rick has been running away from the universe from which he originates. Judaism is deeply grounded in reality, striving to actualize your unique potential while wrestling with your weaknesses, and working to improve yourself and the world. Life isn’t a game.
As Rosh Hashanah approaches, it’s the time to contemplate why we deserve another year on this planet. If we are lucky enough to be written in the Book of Life, how are we going to spend that year? Continuing to escape into sci-fi comedy, video games, or whatever facade we’re chasing? Or by confronting reality and living this life to its fullest?
This article originally appeared on Aish.com.
My favorite thing about this post is that you’ve taken an episode of Rick & Morty whose message, on the face of it, makes a total mockery of organized religion, the concept of a compassionate universe, and the belief in something greater beyond this life, and turned that entirely on its ear. What hit home for me is your notion that Morty’s billions of NPCs can serve as a sort of literal model for a deeper understanding of the mitzvah of loving one’s neighbor as ourselves. That is both hilarious and deeply profound.
Here’s to the new year ahead, may it be as good as season six is turning out to be,
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