The Orthodox Jewish world continues to seesaw back and forth about the pros and cons of the Asifa on Technology at Citifield in New York. Debates abound about on the best Internet filters, blocks and technological band-aids to which will surely repair the dangerous environmental influences of the outside world. Let’s ban or block the Internet and suddenly our children will be less distracted, our communities more heimish and our learning and davening more for the sake of Heaven instead of rote blabbering to get it over with.
In 1944, Rav Eliyahu Dessler said in Strive for Truth (v.3, p.143) “Human beings believe, in their arrogance, that if they continue developing the world on the basis of ever expanding technology they will eventually achieve an environment that will afford everyone unlimited gratification of the senses and a life of ease and pleasure. So long as people remain ‘takers,’ their efforts will inevitably be directed toward selfishness…”
With the advance of technology and the ease of availability, the temptation of distraction has become a daily struggle for Jews across the spectrum to remain upright, even in their own homes. But the Internet is only part of the problem. Go into almost any shul today and you’ll find congregants reading their emails on their cell phones and leaving davening to answer their phones, tallis over their heads and tefillin perfectly squared. Attend any d’var Torah, graduation ceremony, wedding or bar mitzvah and you’ll find people distracted with texting.
The real problem is chutzpah and selfishness, and parents are teaching it to their children by their own actions, and then wondering… what went wrong.
Rabbeinu Bachya asserts in Duties of the Heart: “Their evil inclination induces them to abandon the spiritual world wherein lies their salvation… it makes self-adornment more attractive to them… it impels them to gratify their desires for self-indulgence… until they are sunk in the depths of its seas.”
In the rush to satisfy our thirst for instant gratification, information and acceptance, we’ve created a Jewish society devoid of cohesiveness and spirituality, full of chutzpah and apathy. As Rav Dessler predicted 68 years ago, “They persist in thinking that soon, very soon, they will hit the right formula, and if not in this generation, then in the next, universal happiness will come. And so they bring up their children to study nothing and think of nothing but technological advancement…” (Strive for Truth, pg. 152).
It seems that children and adults 68 years ago were also steeped in the excesses of technology, although it was not as insidious as in our generation. Unfortunately, Jews today are becoming apathetic robots. In their quest to look frum, with their starched white shirts and impeccable Borsolino hats, and in keeping up with the Goldbergs, they have truly collapsed into a materialistic society, all “for the sake of Heaven.”
Consider the case of Yaakov, who goes to the store to buy a pair of expensive shoes on sale at a department store, known for its lenient return policy. There he meets his friend Shimon, who has just bought the same pair of shoes Yaakov wants. Shimon relates to Yaakov that he “purchased” the $300 pair of shoes for only $200 by switching the price tag while no one was looking, and that Yaakov can have them for $250, thereby saving him $50 while Shimon makes some money on the deal.
Shimon is proud of himself and Yaakov gets a bargain.
Where I come from, this is called stealing.
Or consider Reuven’s practice of going to an outlet store to buy fancy white shirts for Shabbos, in order to sit and learn in one of America’s finest yeshivos, where he wouldn’t dare stand out wearing a blue shirt. Lo and behold, Reuven ends up at the local Nordstrom return counter, telling the clerk the shirt is imperfect and he wants to exchange the shirt or get a refund.
Why would religious people, steeped in Torah learning, resort to lying and stealing?
The Orchos Tzaddikim in Sha’ar Hasheker says, “Alchemists turn copper into gold where even the experts cannot tell the difference. So it is with the mind of the charlatan. He rationalizes and justifies his lies until they appear even to him as truth.”