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October 13, 2015 / 30 Tishri, 5776
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The Promise and Potential Peril of Oculus Rift

Whereas a healthy immune system annihilates destructive foreign intrusions into the body, an unhealthy immune system turns against the body itself.
Boy wearing Oculus Rift

Boy wearing Oculus Rift
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Imagine for a moment that you were transported back to moments before the Red Sea split. As the barreling chariots of the Egyptians become visible, various thoughts and doubts may run through your mind. Then at that moment, according to the Midrash, Nachshon ben Aminadav jumps into the sea. Miraculously it splits and the entire nation proceeds onward, including you of course.

Red Sea splitting

Red Sea splitting

The Ba’al Shem Tov teaches that a person is where his person’s thoughts are. To begin to appreciate in greater detail the power of thought, let’s now extend our thinking by means of a “time machine” (מכונת זמן). The value of this phrase is 613, the same as the number of commandments in the Torah. We can learn from this that if a person is complete in all 613 commandments then he has a time machine.

Let’s assume that the imagery of the splitting of the sea thousands of years back began to appear in your mind’s eye. What then? If you see yourself as the protagonist of the story, Nachshon, then this is a very good thing. Close your eyes and imagine yourself jumping into a sea of water, full of faith that God will deliver the Jewish people from the Egyptian pursuers. But the Red Sea experience was also fraught by paranoia. Will they be caught? Only after the Jewish people reached the other side, and witnessed their enemies drowned in the sea, did they begin to spontaneously call out in song to God.

Every morning we recite the Song of the Sea during the prayer service. But instead of recounting a historical event, ideally we should meditate on freeing ourselves from the perceived pursuers and paranoia of everyday life.

While the Splitting of the Sea meditation is immersive, there is also a test. Because the encounter is so captivating, there is also the risk of being swept away by the waters (God forbid). Psychologically, according to Hasidism, we call this danger confusing the pursuer with the pursued or the predator with the prey.

As explained at length in Body, Mind and Soul, the immune system of the body relates to the fear of rape, being pursued by the wolf. Whereas a healthy immune system annihilates destructive foreign intrusions into the body, an unhealthy immune system turns against the body itself.

The spiritual cure is to cultivate in our soul a sense of thanks to all those who have been kind to us and acknowledge our indebtedness to others, which in our account relates to the thanksgiving and praise offered after the splitting of the Red Sea. But until we get to that point, until we free ourselves of paranoia through redemptive song, there is a very great risk. And that is why we may confuse the pursuer with the pursued – the Egyptians with the Jewish people.

Immersive Virtual Reality

All that we have explained is a mental exercise mimicked by virtual reality technologies such as Oculus Rift. While these machines can’t actually take the user traveling through time and space – for space travel you need a “space machine” (מכונת מקום), the value of “Shabbat” (שבת) or Shabbat observance – the visual realms they depict are dangerously addictive.

Let’s now assume that a game is developed called the “Red Sea Experience.” While playing, the gamer has the option of choosing to act out the experience from the vantage point of any of the participants of the event. If he chooses Nachshon, Moses, Miriam, or any member of the Jewish people, then he is doing well. But as we explained before, until healed of the pursuer-pursued confusion malady, God forbid, a person may mistakenly decide to choose to experience the perspective of one of the pursuing Egyptians. The question (and the concern) is what happens during the game over, the drowning experience? Whereas physically, the gamer is not actually drowning, he may be led to think he is. Both from a physical and spiritual perspective this causes us to raise a red flag as to the potential danger of Oculus Rift and other devices like it.

About the Author: Yonatan Gordon is a student of Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh, and publishes his writings on InwardNews.com, a new site he co-founded.

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2 Responses to “The Promise and Potential Peril of Oculus Rift”

  1. Ray Watts says:

    a heck of a trip.

  2. Jesse Long says:

    Things like this are why I prefer classic video game systems and why I will flat out NOT buy a virtual reality head set for a PS4 if I ever decide to get one in my life.

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