Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

3 Teves 5765 - December 15, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Do We have a Hammer . . . or a Gun?

Do we want to stop progress? No. Are we opposed to or afraid of technology? Of course not.

We use fluorescent lighting for our homes and botei medrash. We take the latest jet planes all the time. We use the latest and best methods for preparing and printing newspapers and sifrei kodesh. The decisions we make about how to travel or how to communicate are generally based on the costs and the benefits, and not on any evaluation of the technology.

However, even as we benefit from the latest advances, we do not forget our values and goals.

Research in the modern world has pushed values out of its purview. Engineers should just focus on engineering, it says. Art is pursued just for art's sake. Scientists should not decide in advance what they want to find based on principles that lie outside of science, but should pursue the logical consequences wherever they may lead.

Maybe this is the best methodology, and there is no question that it has been tremendously effective, at least with respect to science and technology — though whether the products of art have been improved by this approach is much more debatable.

However when using technology, it is an entirely different matter.

Some people like to say that technology is neutral — it all depends on what you do with it. This is true only superficially.

In practice, one can drive in a nail with the butt of a gun, and one can kill with a hammer, but guns mostly kill and hammers mostly build or fix things. A more advanced gun will be better at killing, not at driving nails.

Of course, killing is sometimes done for good reasons and building can be a crime, but the bias of each of these activities is — or should be — clear.

Most of the world (until the final Geulah) is made up of shades of gray, and we would not and cannot banish something even if it is dark gray. But certainly our attitude and approach to something like a gun will be much more cautious and restrictive than our attitude to a hammer.

Cell phones, up to the so-called 3G types, were more like hammers — they had their problems, but they brought many benefits. But with the introduction of these new types they have clearly become like guns — more specifically a lethal spiritual poison.

When we travel — as in everything we do — we are not just concerned with reaching our destination in this world. We also have a goal of moving closer to Hashem all the time. Everything that we do should take us closer to Him, but sometimes the fastest means to our worldly destination is not helpful towards reaching our main goal of moving closer to Hashem. Some means that are effective in this world are absolutely harmful towards our efforts to reach the higher goals that we have in life.

Especially in the young years, when a person's overwhelming and almost exclusive goal is to grow in Torah and avodoh, nothing should be allowed that seriously distracts from that goal, and certainly anything that is destructive should be positively shunned.

It is against this perspective that we may understand HaRav Eliashiv's penetrating and perceptive statement: A yeshiva that includes bochurim who carry cell phones, is not worthy of the name.

A yeshiva is an environment that is dedicated exclusively to spiritual growth, aiming to provide a foundation that will set its students along a lifelong path of spiritual growth. If the cell phone has evolved into an instrument that is incompatible with that, then the statement is obvious and easily understandable.

If we follow the initiative of all the roshei yeshivos and remove ourselves from this evil (bochurim completely and at all times, avreichim to minimize even private use) then we can expect that it will be a tremendous boost for us to do good.

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