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July 30, 2014 / 3 Av, 5774
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E-Mail This – Or Else?

Like most people on this planet whose abodes are wired to electricity, I have a computer and go online. It is amazing to me that information on any subject or on any matter can be instantly retrieved with a few clicks of a mouse.

 

Likewise I look forward to opening my e-mail. An e-mail from a friend or family member who lives hundreds of miles away or in a different time zone, such as Israel, is always a day-brightener.

 

I know we can be in touch by cell phone, but the written word has an added dimension. You can read it and then re-read it, savoring the message it contains. Sometimes when you are on the phone, you are so busy listening that you don’t absorb everything that is being said, or there is background noise that obscures a word here or there. Often the call comes at an inconvenient time and you feel pressured to take it, but you don’t necessarily give the person on the other end your undivided attention.

 

The contents of an e-mail (or “snail” mail) are something you can relish at your leisure.

 

The downside, of course, is the tremendous amount of junk mail that you get; but they are easy to delete. They even have a name for it – spam. And with a good filter, many don’t even reach you. Junk is a fact of life, and I’m OK with it.

 

But what I’m not OK with, and what I find quite disturbing, is what I view as threatening, intimidating e-mails that actually come from good friendsand relatives.

 

Many of these emails that I actually enjoy reading contain inspirational messages, hilarious jokes, cute or unusual photos, or interesting, unusual tidbits of information. However, I have no doubt that the main reason they (and dozens of others, based on the e-mail addresses taking up a good chunk of the opening page) were sent/forwarded to me is because of pure, superstitious fear – one totally at odds with Yiddishkeit.

 

Very frequently, these otherwise delightful e-mails end with the exhortation (read threat) to forward the e-mail to at least 10 friends. You are told that if you do, wonderful things will happen to you. Conversely, failure to do so – within minutes of opening the e-mail – may have dire consequences.

 

I recently chuckled over an e-mail I received that was humorous and witty, only to have my enjoyment immediately soured when I read that something horrific would happen to me or my loved ones if I didn’t pass the e-mail on to 10 others.

 

The e-mail even gave examples of people who experienced major tragedies due to their failure to forward the e-mail. These included losing fiancées in fatal accidents, among other major misfortunes. On the other hand, the e-mail described the great luck that happened to those who “obeyed” its instructions to forward it – like meeting the love of their life at a party that evening.

 

The veiled, or not so veiled, threat contained at the end of these otherwise charming e-mails puzzles me – and disgusts me. Some are so inspirational and their messages so positive, why the mind game? Why play on people’s insecurities and irrational fears? Many who receive these kinds of e-mails are sensible, rational people, and for the most part skeptical about the e-mail’s warning of doom. Yet they are beset with a flicker of apprehension and uncertainty, one that compels them to forward the message. “It’s cute, so why not forward it to everybody?” they rationalize. And why not be on the “safe” side at the same time, an inner voice whispers.

 

I know those thoughts once crossed my mind.

 

However, I quickly reached the conclusion that giving in and sending these e-mails is akin to avodah zarah - that I was, in effect, accepting that something other than Hashem’s will could affect the course of my life.

 

The good and bad, the ups and downs in our lives come only min haShamayim – and their reasons are only known to Him. Hashem is in total control of everybody’s existence, and whatever happens to us is the outcome of His will – not of an e-mail that was sent or not sent.

 

To think otherwise erases everything our Yiddishe faith is built on.

 

            So even though I am at times tempted to forward e-mails like those described, just because of their funny or inspiring content, I instead delete them. I put this junk where it belongs – in cyberspace trash.

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