Though I have had my own moments of frustration with the pace of new high tech equipment, I am coming to the realization that they can perhaps tach us all something beyond their typical usages. Since these are products of God-given intellect maybe these inventions can even improve our relationships both with each other and God.
Let’s look for the positive. Embedded in these advances are some big Jewish lessons that may actually speak to our constant spiritual concerns. Here are six examples of lofty notions reflected in up-to-the-minute designs and advances. Two lessons from computers, three from cell phones and one from CSI!
1. Email Addresses: Have you ever failed to receive or to successfully transmit an email to its destination because you left out a dash, period or digit in the address? This has often been the case for me. When giving or taking down someone's address do you meticulously repeat the address, over and over, for fear that without that tiny tiny miniscule dot your message may be prevented from getting to its target? I know I do. This phenomenon graphically illustrates a very critical nuance of Jewish law; one that I have had a hard time explaining over the years.
In sessions about mezuzot, Torah scrolls or teffillin, people have a hard time with the idea that if one small letter of an entire Torah, mezuzah or teffillin parchment is erased, scratched or not accurate it renders the entire ritual object "tref" or not good. I have heard people criticize our tradition, why are we so picky? Do we Jews all suffer from borderline compulsive disorders? Why can’t Jewish law be more pliable, human and understanding about the lack of perfection. Friends, email addresses has arrived to teach us an important lesson - if the scripting is not precise, the mail does not get delivered. Precision is critical and if one letter is off it renders the entire enterprise is worthless and undeliverable.
2. Hard drive: Over and over we are told in the Torah that God is long of memory. Who can imagine a memory thousands of years long? Who can picture storehouses of recollections? Well, now that we are all familiar with the way hard drives operate I think we can all better grasp the idea that not a single action of ours goes unrecorded. Everything we do is set before the Heavenly Tribunal. Once something is performed on a computer, it is there almost for posterity. Though you think you have hit delete, your document is probably still on the hard drive. The tiny movements you make on the Internet are traceable. Your actions are known and your deeds are stored away for reckoning.
3. Cell phone Sim cards: The morning of our grandson's bris was a bit hectic. In the rush of bathing the baby, packing up the car, getting dressed, I dropped my cell phone into a glass of water. Not the best day for this to happen. However, clever son Eli took the "sim card" from my phone and transferred it to another that one that we had around, not being used.
Poof! My phone was resurrected. Now, I realize I may be out on a limb here, but as I watched him doing this sensitive transplant my one thought was a sim card is the very soul of the phone. Just as the body is the vessel of the soul so to this plastic keypad is the container for the sim card. It so hit home to me. The memory, the phone numbers the voice mail was all on that card held so eloquently in that phone. A very real visual for the soul contained in the body.
4. Cell phone reception. You're driving along and suddenly you cannot hear your friend’s voice. In place of clear words you are hearing a garbled sound reminiscent of the subway announcer in New York train system. You have no reception.
You look at the bars that gage the capability of reception and they have dissipated. You are out of range. Messages are being sent but you are not receiving them. Jewish philosophers have struggled over the years with the idea of prophecy. Who receives prophecy? Where does it come from? What is prophecy? Maimonides explains that God is always emanating prophetic truth but few are able to receive them. One must be in a place that has reception, both physically and spiritually. Sometimes you have reception and sometimes you don’t.
5. Charging those Cell phones. Many of us have a new ritual before going to bed; we charge our phones, plug them into a wall at home, at the airport anywhere because without the new charge the phone will not work. Why do we understand this idea for our phones but not for ourselves? Our phone needs life and we accommodate it. Our phone needs to get all charged up and we figure out a way to get it done. We don’t do it for ourselves but we manage do to it for our phones. We humans need to get connected and recharged also. We need to connect to our source of energy in order to operate well. How do you feel after studying Torah? Well if you are studying with the kind of people that I study with, you feel all charged up; reinvigorated after connecting to the source of life force. Why not be as efficient about charging yourself up with spiritual electricity in the form of prayer, mediation and study as you are efficient about your phone’s nightly charge?
6. DNA: As an avid crime scene investigation TV program viewer, I consider myself an amateur DNA specialist. One single cell form the human body tells you the story about the entire body form which that cell was taken. Each cell contains in it the information about the larger body from which it was acquired. What a powerful metaphor for Torah. Here is what I mean. We have 613 mitzvoth, commandments in the Torah. Some more obscure than others but all I believe carry the “DNA” of the entire Torah. Take any single commandment, in our explanation of it, in our unpacking it , it never stands alone. It is part of entire system of Torah and deeply reflects all of the morals and teachings of the entire body of Torah. Select any seemingly esoteric law. Here’s one; you must build a fence around your flat roof. We care about human life, it is our ultimate value. Prevent loss of life. Plan. Let our deepest values be reflected in the construction of your home. Let that value guide you even in the mundane activity of house design; a simple example, but one of many.
Next time you pick up a cell phone think about its soul, think about a computer’s memory, never forget to get recharged and remember if you are in the right place you never know what you might be able to hear through good reception…