In place of Rabbi Julie's monthly message, her Rosh Hashanah message of 5768 is being reprinted. Hark her words - put away your I-phone, Blackberry, before reading this. Enjoy!!
I mentioned yesterday a vision of using technology to further our message in this House of Prayer---having smart boards on the bimah or enabling the Rabbi to beam text into your I- phone or Blackberry. The pace of technological innovation is mind boggling. Do you remember a time when people did not have answering machines? Remember telephone booths? My 7 year-old saw an old-fashioned dial phone and asked, "Mom, what's that?"
In the year 2001 my family got cell phones for the first time as our own personal response to 911 - there was just an urge to stay more connected, to know where the kids were at all times. That year we had such trouble remembering to keep the phones charged or to even take them out the door with us. We just hadn't acculturated to the cell phone lifestyle. Now cell phones are an integral part of daily life. Probably many of you have gone through a similar learning curve.
Experts say that within the next few years technology is fundamentally going to alter our lives as every machine we use will now be connected through wifi with every other tool in our lives;
Change in this society in this century is fast-paced and demanding. We spoke last night about leaving our comfort zones to reach toward our God-given potential. In this world, it is almost impossible not to leave your comfort zone when it comes to embracing technology.
How many of you have struggled recently to learn how to use a new gadget or program? Some people have more aptitude than others in these areas but for all of us it is a challenge to keep up with the technological possibilities before us.
On a grand societal level, too, fierce weapons of mass destruction and our nation's ability to drop a sophisticated army into a mid-eastern desert confound the human imagination.
A question that might be on the minds of many people at this season: Does Judaism have any relevance to these modern dilemmas? Are all these holidays and prayers just sentimental trappings?
After all, the Torah is grounded in an ancient, agricultural society when people literally worshipped by offering their first fruits and choice lambs to feed God. The Rabbis were convinced that the world was about 5,000 years old; that's how we get our dating system and that's why we are entering the year 5768 in the Jewish calendar. The Jewish people believed in a personal, transcendent God who could intervene in human history, who could answer specific personal prayers.
So much has changed since then. The world has literally gotten bigger and more confusing even as we get more educated, or at least our concept of the world has. We now know that the earth is more than 4.5 billion years old, we know that we are not the center of the universe but rather a small inconsequential planet on the far edge of a galaxy, surrounded by vast vast empty areas of space, dotted by many other galaxies comprising millions of stars. Here on the home planet, the number of choices we have is infinite: you can be a Buddhist, a secular humanist, an atheist, an artist. You can live in Philadelphia or L.A. or on a farm in Idaho.
So how can Torah possibly have any relevance to us? Why does Judaism matter?
Probably the single most important question facing human kind is whether we as a human civilization will be able to grow our wisdom, our moral ability, sufficiently to match our enormous technological capability, before we have destroyed life on this planet. Will human kind be able to achieve this inner growth in wisdom and morality?
The question is on the table and we don't yet know the answer. But we had better muster every resource we possibly can, before global warming, AIDs, human cruelty and ignorance prevail. Apparently, the technological aspects of these challenges are not the biggest challenge on the table. Hard science and social science could most likely be used to achieve solutions to problems of energy, medicine, distribution. But there is a huge obstacle to success. The real challenge is our human ability to communicate, collaborate, care and share. The real challenge has to do with our ability to be wise enough, generous enough, compassionate enough to survive.
The great prophet Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his 1963 Strength to Love, "Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men."
How can Judaism help turn this around? Can Judaism grow us spiritually so that we can respond to the challenges of our times?
Torah is the saga of human beings trying to live a moral life. Torah and all the years of Jewish teaching that follow call on us to live ethical lives, to grow the inner qualities that will result in right action. Jewish community life is a structured framework for reflecting on, cultivating, developing these moral capabilities.
Our ancestors struggled with family relationships, with political decisions, with moral dilemmas.
When a community engages with these texts, it isn't so much the particular story that is so significant, it is the living dialogue, the contemporary quest in community to enact the values that matters. To be part of such an on-going adventure is magnificent. I'm not saying it's always easy - you may have to get up and go out on a snowy day to be present for your minyan, you may dislike one or another member of your prayer group, you may ever feel over-worked or disappointed and you may be called to leave your comfort zone, the place where you feel most righteous.
But where else in your life are you going to find an intense focus on ethical living? You are not going to find this in the mall, in corporations, in the academy or on the highways of this land.
Jewish community is dedicated to supporting you in a quest for right living. We ask questions here about how to live a balanced life, how to help those in need, how to survive the ups and downs of life, how to be a mentsch. These are Jewish questions.
Jewish community seeks to help you clarify what Paul Farmer, the Harvard-trained doctor whose life is described in Tracy Kidder's book Mountains Beyond Mountains, called AMCs. Farmer advocates action based on "AMCs," or Areas of Moral Clarity." For instance, it is right for human beings to have food and medical care. End of debate.
Farmer would have liked Rabbi Hillel's famous saying,
If I am not for myself, who am I?
If I am only for myself, what am I?
If not now, when?
We do live in a vast universe with constantly expanding technological capability. What would happen if each of us devoted as much time, care and attention to growing our wisdom and our right action as we do to mastering new technologies? What if we stretched ourselves to new moral heights just as we are constantly stretching ourselves to new technological competence?
Each one of us deserves a home where we will be grounded and supported in developing the human capacity to live ethically in this world. One such home, which has open doors and welcoming arms, is Jewish community. We welcome you to make a home here at Leyv Ha-Ir~Heart of the City, not just on these holy days, but throughout the year. Whether you are a member or not-yet a member, your presence bolsters the mission to keep asking important questions, to keep growing the inner qualities within ourselves that make for a better world.
To conclude on a lighter note, perhaps there are ways that the technological universe can actually inform our moral quest. Rabbi Michael Remson, a Reconstructionist colleague, asked an intriguing question. "If the Book of Life were a computer, how would we be talking about it?" The Book of Life is another name for Torah and it also is the image in our minds during these Holy Days --- that there is a metaphorical Book of Life open in heaven, on which our daily deeds are inscribed and we want to be sealed into this Book of Life for the New Year.
Based on Remson's idea, here are seven suggestions for the Torah of Computers:
1. Garbage in/Garbage out
2. There are different kinds of memory: hard drives, disposable disks, flash drives corresponding to all the kinds of intelligence we know humans have: emotional intelligence, musical or athletic intelligence, academic intelligence, spiritual intelligence
3. Don't forget to save the good stuff
4. You can always over-write your mistakes
5. Avoid virus contamination
6. Know the real mail from the spam
7. Remember the system's restorative powers
May you be inscribed in the Book of Life in this New Year. May you draw deeply from the well of living Torah for inspiration. May you share your gifts to support others in the quest for ethical living. Ken Yehi Ratzon~ Let it be so.