The Elul Challenge
The Elul Challenge
5776 - Re’eh
ASPIRATION IN A WORLD OF DISTRACTION
INTRODUCING THE ELUL CHALLENGE
Rabbi Rael Blumenthal
A number of years ago, a close friend of mine told me the story of his grandmother, a Holocaust survivor who made her way to the United States. With the characteristic perseverance of one who could not allow Hitler to win, and despite her poverty, she raised her children with to value life, learning and the Jewish nation.
At some point in the mid sixties, after a number of a years, saving penny by penny, she had finally saved up enough to buy an electric washing machine. On that day, she called her children in and told them, “Now that I no longer need to spend all day at home - we’re going to the library. If we have free time, it’s to be used for learning.”
Our world has moved a distance from those days. And with it, the notion of free time has become more and more elusive. We live in an ever more connected world. Emails expect answers, texts have read receipts, and cell phones have made us accessible at any moment, and in any place.
This has a clear and predictable outcome: we suffer not just from a lack of free time, but a serious lack of distraction free time. What is sometimes less obvious is the ramification of our constantly connected, plugged in and distracted lives.
Of course, there has been much research on the effects of technology in our lives, and there is yet much to uncover as the human race moves faster and further than ever before.
For example: A new study being published by the World Federation Of Societies of Anaesthesiologists (WFSA) claims that giving a child an iPad to use before surgery can be as relaxing as a sedative before administering the aesthetic.
But while researchers and scientists debate the psychology and science, there are palpable outcomes that we experience on a personal level, almost daily.
the mystery of yerushalayim
The Rambam (הל׳ בית הבחירה ב:ב) quoting Chazal describes the history and significance of the Mizbeach - the Alter - that stood on Har HaBayis. He writes that:
It is clear that we have a long history with that place. And yet when The Torah in our parsha describes the process of building the Beis HaMikdash it labels Yerushalayim in a most peculiar way:
The obvious question: Was it not chosen already? Perhaps it was not revealed yet - but it was most certainly chosen.1
The Malbim explains this future tense in context of the rest of the pasuk:
The essence of Yerushalayim is aspiration. Yerushalayim by its very definition is a place of the future, not the present. Indeed, the city was always intended to be a place of aspirations, of hopes and of dreams. Yaakov Avinu learns for 14 years in the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever, but only dreams of that great ladder to Heaven, only aspires to ascend when he arrives in Yerushalayim.
Last year, just like Yaakov Avinu, we too left Neilah with dreams. We decended from that great hill top reinvigorated, inspired and driven. If Yom Kippur is Kodesh HaKodashim of the year, we’re now entering into Sha’arei Yerushalayim - the gates of Yerushalayim.2 Now, more than ever, Hashem invites to dream once again. What kind of people to we want to be? What kind of parent, child, student, teacher, wife and husband do we want to be? If last year we dreamed and failed, then this year we can dream and succeed.
The Chasam Sofer writes on the pasuk that:
distraction - enemy of aspiration
The challenge of course is in the follow through. In the ups and downs, the hustle and bustle of this year, many of those dreams are now on the back burner.
For most of us, The great enemy of dreams and aspiration is not failure, lack of ability or even demotivation. The real dream killer is distraction.
This is the most devastating effect of our constantly connected world. We no longer have moments to dream or to aspire; our minds are flooded with clicks baits, and clips, picture and gifs. Technology is getter smarter: We now get suggestions of future distractions based on our current distractions.
If that grandmother would witness our generation, she we see us walking around with entire libraries in our pockets; the sum total of all human knowledge accessible in seconds. And we use it to play angry birds, watch videos of cats and speak lashon hara. Think of the dream we could chase instead!
Technology has given us access to all the knowledge in the world, and sapped away our ability to appreciate it.
the elul challenge
Last year I asked a class of tired students how many of them go to sleep with their iPads or phones. Every hand went up.
So this summer, I tried an experiment. After reading article after article decrying my own bed time and sleep habits, I decided to take the plunge and move my phone charger away from my bed, and out of the bedroom.
Research has shown over and over again how devastating screen time is before sleep. From lowering the quality and quantity of sleep, to increased anxiety in the morning, it is clear that a bedroom is no place for technology. Within a week, I noticed real changes my focus, alertness, positivity and motivation.
So here is my challenge for us, as a kehilla. Banish technology from the beginning and end of our days. Just for a few moments. Moments to sleep like a mensch, and wake up like a mensch.
As a community, let’s take those precious minutes at the beginning and end of every day to introspect, reflect, and dream. To deepen relationship with our spouses and with Hashem. This in and of itself will be life changing. But we can do even more.
Replacing the nightly ritual of clicking, liking and tagging, catching up on news, weather and sports, we could say Shema with a little focus. Replacing the morning ritual of anxious email, Modeh Ani - a moment of gratitude. All in all, this might change no more than a few minutes each day - but the effects will jettison us further and higher than we could ever imagine.
As Robert Browning once said:
September 05, 2016 at 04:58PM
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Rabbi Rael Blumenthal is the Rabbi of BRS West, as well as a Rebbe at the Yeshiva High School of Boca Raton.