Worship of modern tech should only go shofar
So the iPhone 5 has arrived. Ho hum. Another false messiah that millions upon millions will worship across the globe. So much so that many find themselves texting sweet nothings to their sweethearts while driving the car with kids in tow.
Perhaps that’s what life in our wireless world has been reduced to: false messiahs and seriously short-sighted shortcuts. In the relentless rush of the rat race, these shortcuts are as ubiquitous as they are iniquitous. We think we need to convey a message so we punch out yet another banal text.
It gets worse, or better, depending on whether you believe tweets are for twits. Millions of people feel the need to share their innermost thoughts with the world, except it seems so many substitute the message for a missile at someone’s heart. So often the content is at best puerile and at worst depraved.
The digital revolution does, however, have myriad advantages. I’m not listing them because many are self-evident, especially if you’re reading this on a digital screen.
And nowadays we can do virtually everything from bed, if we so desire. Bed used to have two sublime functions: sleep and sex. But with the advent of the iPad, another darling of the digital revolution, sleep and sex seem to have been relegated to footnotes. For some folks, the sex may be even better in the virtual world. And, I suspect, sleep will one day be available for download. iSnooze, perhaps?
So driven to distraction have we become by the latest fleeting fads we’re more connected to the virtual world than the real world.
Which brings me to this week, the holiest week in the Jewish calendar. Last Monday and Tuesday were Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The majority of Australia’s 110,000 Jews – save Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews – probably remained logged on, myself included, even though it contravenes Jewish law.
But almost all of us, myself included, fell silent when the rabbi raised the ram’s horn, or shofar, and sounded the blasts that heralded in the New Year.
This unique drone pierced the air inside synagogues across the globe as most of the world’s 13 million or so Jews welcomed in the year 5773. And it will echo again on Wednesday evening to signal the end of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when most Jews observe a 25-hour fast as part of the annual rite of repentance.
True, the shofar is wireless, but it’s also timeless. It hasn’t been updated since it’s dawn millennia ago – there’s no turbo-charged shofar, no iShofar, no Shofar 2.0. There are no copyright court cases and although there’s probably an app, it’s a poor cousin to the real deal.
The background – that Abraham, who was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac, sacrificed a ram instead – is not as didactic as the foreground.
For the sounding of the shofar is meant to shake us from our slumber, awaken our spirituality and provoke us to measure our moral compass.
Why? Because Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the 10 Days of Awe, leading up to Yom Kippur when we are (hopefully) sealed into the Book of Life.
And so the ram’s horn reminds us that we are entering the 11th hour, and that we need to seek forgiveness for our sins of the last year.
You don’t have to be a Luddite or even a technophobe to be drawn by the idea of pressing the pause button amid the ruthless race for profit and profile.
That’s precisely what the shofar is for – to remind us to mute the unbearable noise that clutters our airwaves. It’s a signal to stop, pause, breathe and, yes, think – without distractions. To reflect on our behaviour in the past year and think about how to better it in the next.
It sounds simple, but it’s more complex than getting your iPhone to reveal your name when you call instead of the infuriating word “Blocked”.
And so the bottom line is this: in this day and age when our entire universe seems to have been contracted into 140 characters or less, timeless cultural symbols such as the shofar remind us of that brave old world.
The more our global village shrinks into sound bites, the more important the sound of the shofar (or the muezzin or priest for that matter) becomes for the next generation.
The more we text, the more we lose sight of the fact the original text – the Old Testament – is still operational in the new millennium.
The more we crave the next invention – iWallets or iWhatevers – the more we need a ram’s horn to remind us that the past has arguably more value, and values, for our children.
In short, the false messiahs of modernity are no substitute for the long-standing lodestones of antiquity.
And here’s the rub – you don’t need to be Jewish, or even religious, to subscribe to the subtext. All you have to do is turn off your iPhone, tune out of the Twitter-verse and drop in to your soul for a moment of silent introspection.
And best of all – it’s free.
Dan Goldberg, a former national editor of the Australian Jewish News, is the Australian correspondent for Haaretz, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and The Jewish Chronicle.
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