Like many of you, I spend a lot of time staring at screens. Whether it is my cell phone, computer or television, I am increasingly aware of the amount of time and energy that I devote to social media and electronic entertainment. The fact that we can summon any type of information at the push of a button – anytime or anywhere, is truly remarkable. The rapid spread of technology has revolutionized every aspect of our lives. Mobile commuting has made it possible to redefine our sense of permanent space and even time. Video conferencing and advances in telecommunication have redefined work space and the classroom. Long distance calls are a thing of the past. Last month, when we traveled on our congregational Israel trip, there were no restrictions on our ability to be in daily contact with our homes.
While the easy availability of this technology is beneficial, it also has its drawbacks. Too many of us (myself included) spend inordinate amounts of time involved in communicating and gleaning information from our electronic devices, with the unintended result of isolating ourselves from the people around us. The easy accessibility of instant information and entertainment can take its toll on our relationships with those who matter most in our lives. “Unplugging” is often a necessary task so as to ensure that we participate in face to face communication.
In the Deuteronomy 34:10 we read of the death of Moses. The text states: “Never again did there arise a prophet like Moses who knew God Panim el Panim – face to face”. The beautiful intimacy reflected in this passage can be seen as a challenge to all of us during the month of Elul.
As we enter into our third week, I want us to focus on the important relationships in our lives: our families, dear friends and coworkers with whom we share a common bond. An essential part of the process of Cheshbon HaNefesh¬ (taking an inventory of our souls) revolves around asking ourselves to examine the way we treat the people around us. Do we honor them and acknowledge how important they are to us, or do we allow ourselves to become complacent? Are we fully present – seeing them panim el panim (face to face), or do we take them for granted? Are the many distractions – technological and otherwise – with which we are confronted daily lull us into a false sense of contentment?
The following questions are designed to make us think about the status of the many different relationships in our lives. Again, this is by no means a complete list. Hopefully it will provide you with a starting point for improving the relationships in your lives.
- How many times in the past year have I taken the love and friendship that others offer me for granted?
- Are there people I have wronged that I need to ask to forgive me?
- Will I be able to forgive those who come to me to ask for my forgiveness?
- Have I taken part in any business or personal transactions this past year that were against my religious, moral, or ethical principles?
- Have I spent more time looking at electronic devices than I should? Has this impacted my relationships with others?
- Have I allowed politics to come in the way of relationships?
- Have I shut out the pain of others in other parts of the world? In my country? My city? My congregation? My neighborhood? My family?
L’shanah Tovah U’metukah – may you have a good and sweet new year,
Rabbi Joe Black