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The Elements of Jewish Living

The Information Age

By TorahLab

There is a story I have been selling all week. Someone came to his Rabbi with a serious problem. Yom Kippur is coming and the Mets game comes out the same time as Kol Nidrei! The Rabbi put his arm comfortingly on the shoulder of his congregant and said Marvin, what are you worried about? That is why G-d made VCR’s. The man stepped back and breathed a sigh of relief. He said, “Rabbi, you can tape Kol Nidrei!”

We are in the last quarter of the year and the approaching the end of the millennia. Technology is soaring. The vehicles in place for disseminating information are mind boggling. There has never been so much information available to so many people so quickly. No one talks about kilobytes or megabytes. I myself a very involved in using the new medium to teach Torah to multitudes. Little children talk about gigabytes, which is a billion bits of information traveling at super sonic speeds. There is a real danger to all this. Virtual reality is not reality. Where information is something that enters from the outside, our Yiddishkeit emanates from the soul. It is not about hearing, seeing, or knowing; the Neshama must be present.

The tree from which Adam and Eve ate is correctly translated as the ‘tree of knowing good and evil.’ Eitz HaDaas. Eating from this tree was the supreme sin of massive consequence. This was the original sin. What did they do wrong? What is wrong with knowing good and evil? I understand there may be a sin in coming into too close contact with evil. But what can possibly be wrong with knowing good?

According to Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, eating the forbidden fruit - had nothing to do with betraying God. The original sin, which resulted in humanity’s exile from paradise, was a betrayal of self. Man wanted to get it from the outside, externally, instead of generating truth from ones self.

G-d endows man with the innate ability to distinguish good from evil. When one questions that inner voice one is actually questioning ones own soul. The fundamental sin according to R. Kook is that when Adam ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, he accepted the opinion of the snake rather than holding firm to his inner convictions. When he accepted the opinion of the snake he lost himself. As the juice flooded into his mouth upon the first bite, Adam tasted the loss of his core certainty of being. According to the Zohar, the tree of knowledge is the tree of uncertainty. In effect, when man ate the fruit of the tree of good and evil, he brought the uncertainty of the world into his very being. (R. Kook, Orot hakodesh 3:140)

The original sin is thus the sin of information. Living in the information age it is a sin with which we can easily identify. We surf around the real and virtual world collecting packets of information, but in our pathological drive for knowing, we can cloud and lose our basic certainties about reality. A chasuna is a great spiritual milestone for us a s Jews. I asked a choson a few weeks ago what he was doing to get ready for his chasuna. He told me he’s surfing and has already found a few helpful sites. We are guilty of knowing without feeling. Doing without experiencing. The result is that we cannot even retain as our own that which we do know. We live under the illusion that more information - more knowledge, and more technology - will somehow make us wiser, happier and even more spiritual. It’s not true! We can watch a thousand Kol Nidrei’s and know all about davening and it will do very little for us.

Last year on Parshas Breishis I asked that we make the year “the year of the Sidur”. We did. Friday nights all through the winter, after Musaf, and whenever I could we learned Sidur. I’d like to continue to do that. But let’s grow. Let’s make this year the year of kavana. The year of being there, of standing before Hashem as a community, of listening to our Neshamas and being true to ourselves. This is really the step Bais Torah has to take.

Chazal say that when we do Teshuva for the sin of the Eitz HaDaas we will have arrived.

“This Drasha was given Parshas Breishis 1999 in Congregation Bais Torah”

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