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17 Adar I 5760 - February 23 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Technological Development -- Three Views

by Rabbi Nosson Zeev Grossman

Part II

The first part reviewed the insight of R' Tzodok Hacohen of Lublin ztvk'l who taught that all the wisdom and knowledge in the world is a by-product of the wisdom that is found among those who study Torah. Advances in other fields of human intellectual endeavor come about because of progress and success in Torah study. Yet the Chovos Halevovos points out that progress in secular areas is accompanied by deterioration in moral areas. As the body is more pampered, the mind becomes dull. HaRav Dessler expands on this by pointing out that people's tremendous travel in our days is nothing but the fulfillment of the curse of Kayin. They do not realize that far from bettering the world, the unbridled material progress accompanied by moral decay is only ruining olom hazeh.

HaRav Dessler also says about new discoveries, "They use all their inventions for destruction and ruin. For instance, let us consider the shortening of distances by improved transportation such as ships and planes. Today these are used for destruction. Whereas before all wars caused only local ruin, now devastation is worldwide. Chazal (Sanhedrin 71b) have taught us that `it is beneficial for tzaddikim and the world when tzaddikim meet, but it is detrimental for reshoim and the world when reshoim meet.'

"Any invention or discovery can be beneficial only when tzaddikim use it. People are mistaken if they believe that refinement of character needs no effort. Such an assessment is foolish beyond belief. Only when the Melech Hamoshiach will come and the `earth shall be full of the knowledge of Hashem as the waters cover the sea' (Yeshaya 11:9), and people will give to others, then -- and only then -- will olam hazeh be perfect."

He writes that we can learn the Torah outlook on wisdom of olam hazeh from the first inventor: Tuval Kayin "the forger of every sharp instrument in brass and iron" (Bereishis 4:22). How did humanity react after seeing his invention? They were probably truly amazed and excited. People presumably plowed fields either with their hands, with sticks, or with stones until the eminent inventor, Tuval Kayin, lightened their workload tremendously through his discovery of iron and its various uses. Chazal, however, say that destruction is the result of that development, according to the Torah. Tuval Kayin increased the potential for destruction. Rashi (Bereishis 4:22) explains: "Tuval Kayin -- [the first word] is derived from the word tavlin (spice). He `spiced' and dressed- up the trade of Kayin by making weapons for murderers."

Maran further explains that this was the mistake of the dor hamabul, for which they were punished by the fact that the springs of earth's deep waters split open. This was measure for measure: a result of their aspiration to concentrate on the material elements of olam hazeh. They clung to their mistaken beliefs as the Midrash Tanchuma (Bereishis ch. 7) writes: "`The pity of reshoim is cruel' (Mishlei 12:10). People of the dor hamabul were cruel . . . When HaKodosh Boruch Hu brought up the deep waters . . . they took their children and put them in holes of the deep waters to plug them up."

The Aggadas Bereishis (ch. 4) adds: "They had many children and each one would take his son and put him on the deep waters and [use the children as] patches so the water would not drown them. When the water would rise again they would take other children and put them on the deep waters. See their pity -- `The pity of reshoim is cruel.'"

HaRav Dessler explains: "The explanation of these amazing ma'amorim is as follows: When people try to improve olam hazeh their anguish will heighten. Instead of realizing they are sinking in materialism, they look for ways to develop material life even more, hoping thereby to achieve more satisfaction in olam hazeh. When this fails, they attempt to capture this elusive satisfaction for their children in olam hazeh. It is amazing to see how they blindly walk to their ruin.

"Currently we see the unemployment of tens of thousands caused by industrialism and the increased worry and stress of raising the standard of living. All their economic research aimed at improving life only wrecks it further. Nonetheless, they all think that in a short while the world will improve, and even if in this generation they do not reach true happiness, surely the next generation will be successful. In this way they raise their children to cling to materialism and to develop it further. This is what the Midrash means when it says that they put their children in holes of the deep waters to plug them up so as not to drown. They do not want to realize that this would not even help their children. Even if they put patches on top of patches, one after the other, they cannot protect themselves from the destruction that tumah brings in its wake. The result is that their pity for their children is actually cruelty since they are hastening their children's devastation.

"Happiness in olam hazeh can only actually be achieved by being satisfied with a minimum of olam hazeh and having a fervent aspiration for spiritual achievement. This is what Chazal (Ovos 6:4) write: `This is the way of Torah . . . You will be happy in olam hazeh.' "

One question still remains. Although technological progress is likely to turn into an instrument for destruction in the hands of people who have devoted all their efforts to material progress and have neglected the moral aspects of life, do not these miraculous inventions show that our modern era has some special quality? Do we not see that Heaven has granted such sophisticated inventions in our times?

We quoted above R' Tzodok Hacohen that the growth of knowledge throughout the world is only because of the growth of Torah learning at that particular time. Nonetheless, we must remember that as far as ruchniyus is concerned, a constant digression is taking place over the years, a yeridas hadoros.

Even the chidushei Torah of our generation do not point to our being superior to those before us. On the contrary, we have a kabolo from our gedolei Torah that our main effort is to try to understand what rishonim said and to make it clear to our weak intelligence and to attempt to grasp what they teach us. [So our learning is certainly on a lower level than theirs.] We succeed in understanding the succinct teachings of the Rambam and the Rashbo only after intensive examination, and after first being fully aware of the full extent of the topic's basic definitions. In general, as is well known, a decline in spirituality has taken place over the years. If so, why are we privileged to have so many impressive technological innovations?

The Chofetz Chaim ztvk'l relates directly to this question at the end of Shem Olam. In that essay he explains at length the decline of the generations (yeridas hadoros) --"If the previous generations were like men we are like mules" (Shabbos 112b).

"Indeed I realize that some people who are presumed by themselves to be wise will have difficulty understanding what we said. If you say that whoever is earlier in time is greater ("prior") in wisdom, but do we not see that much more chochmoh has been revealed now than in the past? For example, today a precise instrument has been invented to see the distant stars. Also an instrument for hearing others (called a telephone) has been invented and one can hear another's voice dozens of parsohs away. Likewise, in our days photography has been invented that can sketch a person's exact likeness on paper even without his knowledge. Today we even have a record player to record a person's voice for posterity. Even much later, even after he dies, we can hear his actual voice from that instrument."

Maran the Chofetz Chaim answers that, on the contrary, these inventions indicate our inferiority and not our superiority. He compares this to a school teacher teaching his students to read Hebrew letters with vowels. With a clever student who has a quick grasp, it is sufficient to teach the first two letters on the line, and he will be able to read the rest of the vowelized words. When the student is of average capabilities, he needs to be taught additional letters before he can read. A student who has an especially poor power of reception needs someone to read for him the whole line from beginning to end and sometimes he even needs to review all the lines like a parrot.

The latest inventions, explains the Chofetz Chaim, are intended to teach us a moral lesson, to strengthen our emunah.

"The increase of such inventions helps us understand how low is our level. Shomayim needs to show us miracles for every foundation of our holy emunah, which was unnecessary before when every Jew had a strong emunah. Their aim is to disprove those who argue about Hashgocho and those who deny it. These inventions show that there is a `watchful eye, an attentive ear, and all your deeds are recorded in a book' (Ovos 2:1)."

Previously, explains Maran the Chofetz Chaim, when each Jew lived with the tangible faith that HaKodosh Boruch Hu hears his tefillos from Shomayim, people did not need a telephone to teach them that Hashem implanted in His creation a method that sound can be sent to remote areas. Similarly, when people believed in Hashgocho protis they did not need a telescope to prove that man can see from earth to heaven, and thereby to understand that surely the Creator can do the reverse when He supervises what people are doing. In the past, photography was not necessary to show the doubtful that a person's good and bad deeds can be recorded in Heaven as living pictures to testify before Hashem. Record players are a weak earthly example of the concept of "and a person is told what he converses" (Chagigah 5b).

"The conclusion is that all the wisdom and processes that have become known in our time are not the result of our great wisdom compared to earlier generations, but rather to verify the idea of Hashgocho to us."

Eighty years have passed since the Chofetz Chaim printed the above. Telescopes have been vastly improved and satellites can take pictures from high in the skies and even read accurately the newspaper that a man is holding in his hands way down on the Earth. Instead of the old-fashioned record player and tape recorder we have today the stereo compact disks. Recent inventions bring new possibilities for us to learn moral lessons. The problem is that they "are wise to do evil" and technological progress is not achieving its real aim in a world wallowing in the frenzied scramble for materialism.

Scientists have indeed succeeded in gathering crumbs of the abundant wisdom that Hashem sends to the world and with it they are creating new devices all the time. This is all possible because of the chidushei Torah of bnei Torah and not because of the brain power of the various scientists and programmers. As R' Tzodok Hacohen writes: "When a Jew is mechadeish something in Torah wisdom coming from Hashem, this wisdom spreads throughout the world and wisdom pertaining to olam hazeh is also innovated because of it. Scholarly non-Jews capture this wisdom [coming from Heaven] and think they themselves have innovated it."

Nonetheless, these inventions are intended to help us reflect on Hashgocho protis and to learn moral lessons. They are intended to prove to us the existence of a `watchful eye, an attentive ear, and all your deeds are recorded in a book' (Ovos 2:1). It is as the Chofetz Chaim writes, that "all the wisdom and processes that have become known in our time are not the result of our great wisdom compared to earlier generations, but rather to verify the idea of Hashgocho to us." Unfortunately, technological progress is being used by most of the world in a way that is clearly negative. They are "wise to do evil," and as the Chovos Halevovos writes: "To the extent that the world has become more sophisticated, their understanding has deteriorated."

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