Two weeks ago I suffered the worst tragedy we computer devotees can ever experience - my trusty computer was apparently dead, kaput, blank screen and all. Since I was never wise enough to truly back up my hard drive regularly, I was in a panic. I had some very important documents stored on that hard drive, as well as a half-finished book and a fully completed research assignment that I had worked on for days.
I chastised myself for not backing it up and thereby saving my immortal words and thoughts, at least on a floppy disk. After fooling around with the darned contraption for a while, I finally admitted defeat and called the computer repair people, who have always told me they cannot save what is on the hard drive and recommended I purchase a new computer from them because "it does not pay" to fix this one. In my desperation, I called a number of computer repair companies, and the one who said "I am coming over right now" is the one I chose. I then dutifully canceled my requests for service with the other ones.
The repairman arrived, looked at the dead computer and began to examine the maze of wires that emanated from it. He traced and tested each wire and with a sheepish look of discovery said to me: "This main cable wire seems somehow to have become detached from the energy source." He then plugged it back into the socket and presto, the computer leaped back into life, hard drive and all. He then showed me which wire I should always check on to make sure that it is always plugged into the electrical socket before hastily calling the repair service once more. I gratefully thanked him and sat down again at the computer to continue with my work, feeling very thankful that I escaped from a potentially awful situation unscathed, though somewhat embarrassed.
As I thought about this, it dawned on me that there are much broader implications to this seemingly ordinary incident. For many Jews and for the State of Israel generally, our Judaism computer has been dead for a long time. Because we are currently no longer aware of how or why this happened, we are always forced to call in repairmen. Their advice unfailingly is always to buy a new computer - to create the new Jew, to redefine and update Judaism. They tell us that there are so many new programs we can install on a new computer that the old one is no longer viable, it does not have sufficient memory and it is not fast enough. So we are always interested in acquiring the new computer.
Over the past centuries, we have purchased new computers of Enlightenment, Marxism, nationalism, secularism, feminism, pacifism, humanism, new streams of Judaism, etc. While each of these may be a program of some value on a working computer, none of them is able to be the computer itself. All of them have crashed badly. The true problem is that none of them is plugged in to the energy source of the Jewish people - Torah, tradition, the belief in the divine origin and heritage of Sinai. Once unplugged from this source, no Jewish computer, movement, or even nation will be able to successfully stand the circumstances of a difficult world.
The measure of Judaism established by the Talmud and all later Jewish scholarship has always been being plugged into Torah belief, study and observance. That has been our salvation and secret of survival over many millennia. The Talmud teaches us that even the Lord finds Himself to be located, so to speak, only within the four ells of Halacha. Searching for spiritual or even physical answers to our problems while not being plugged into our source of holiness and uniqueness will invariably turn up as a blank screen no matter the newness and shininess of our national or individual computer.
Even a cursory reading of the words of our prophets shouts this truth to us. But in school systems that teach our children that Darwin is more valuable to their lives than Isaiah and that Jeremiah's warnings are never to really to be taken seriously, it is obvious that the computer has become unplugged. Just plug in the computer of Jewish life to its energy source of Torah and tradition, and our screen of progress and redemption will light up.
The writer is a noted scholar, historian, speaker and educator. www.rabbiwein.com
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