Jewish Thought

Technology and Spirituality – R. Feige Twerski

I recently heard an interview with a leading expert in the field of technology who reported on the latest advances in tech-driven companies such as Google and Microsoft. His concluding remark was that if these companies are to survive in today’s marketplace, they have to keep raising the bar because what’s current now will be obsolete tomorrow. Indeed, he observed, because of the importance of this aspect of the economy, it is extremely challenging to keep pace with the latest developments. It is no surprise to a student of Torah that what happens in our physical world is only a metaphor for our spiritual existence.

The sacred texts remind us repeatedly that when it comes to Torah, the rule is “If you abandon Me for one day, I will leave you for two days.” The inescapable implication for Klal Yisrael is that because our essence is ultimately spiritual, we have no alternative but to ascend the ladder toward spiritual excellence on a moment-to-moment, day-by-day basis. The person I am today should be far better than the one I was yesterday. Ignoring that summons to excellence means that not advancing up the ladder one day puts us at a two-day disadvantage.

Allowing ourselves the latitude to be negligent is costly on two accounts; first, there is the work we were supposed to have done today, and second, we have lost the higher level to which we would have been propelled.  In every field of endeavor there is an imperative for ongoing education.

Doctors, attorneys, educators and psychologists must all stay current on the latest developments. If not, they rapidly become irrelevant.  An anecdote is told about the great Reb Saadia Gaon, who used to travel from city to city giving scholarly lectures on topics of halachah and Jewish values. On one occasion he arrived in a Jewish community after a long journey, in a state of exhaustion. Tired and disheveled from the trip, he went to an inn to seek lodging. The innkeeper sized him up as a hobo, threw him a key and dismissively pointed him in the direction of a room at the end of the hall. The next morning the innkeeper noticed that all the shopkeepers were closing their stores and throngs of people were headed for the town beis midrash. Curious, he inquired about where everyone was going, and was informed that the renowned Reb Saadia Gaon would be honoring the local Jewish community with a shiur. The innkeeper excitedly joined the throng, but when Reb Saadia ascended the podium, his heart sank. Standing at the front of the beis hamidrash was none other than the person he had treated so flippantly the day before. The innkeeper could barely contain his shame and heartache.

As soon as Reb Saadia finished his shiur, he ran up to him, threw himself at his feet and wept unashamedly, imploring the rabbi to forgive him for his earlier disrespect. “If only I had known who you were yesterday,” he lamented, “I would not have treated you so poorly.” After listening to the innkeeper’s heartfelt words of remorse, Reb Saadia, choked up with tears, commented that on a daily basis, all of us should tell the Master of the world that if only we had known yesterday what we know today of His greatness, we would never have interacted with Him so cavalierly and inappropriately.

Our obsession with technology, as well as our preoccupation with whatever is new and current in every area of our lives (Heaven forbid that we should wear last year’s styles!) behoove us to give at least equal attention to how we are doing in our relationship with Hashem and to the condition of our neshamos. We would be well served to set aside time regularly to assess our spiritual growth—our learning, davening, middos, recitation of brachos, all the verities that impact on our eternal life.

As we follow the unrelenting updates of the technological world, we dare not fail to keep pace with “updates” of the soul. May Hashem grant us Heavenly assistance as we resolutely and persistently seek to improve the quality of our relationship with Him and His Torah.

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