Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

16 Iyar 5761 - May 9, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Cellular Terrorism

by Rabbi Nosson Grossman

Over the last few months, the lack of reception for cellular phones in Israel has become a signal for panic about yet another terrorist outrage, or at least a suspected bomb. Anyone who cannot make or receive phone calls on his cell phone for some unexplained reason rushes to hear the latest news. Whenever there is a suspected bomb and after a bomb actually explodes or is defused, the police order the cellular telephone companies to shut down all their connections, to prevent any bombs or further bombs being activated from a distance by means of a phone call and the creation of an electric current in the phone which activates the explosive material.

The cellular telephone -- one of the symbols of our technologically advanced times, which allows its owner to remain in touch from everywhere, all the time and turns an otherwise idle hour into a lucrative one -- has now become a destructive weapon with devastating potential. The warped and evil mind of a Palestinian terrorist has succeeded in adopting this sophisticated invention, actually intended for man's welfare, to sow devastation and death.

"Cellular Terrorism" is a very real reflection of what is happening in the sphere of technological progress, the pride and glory of our generation. Greater sophistication, superior efficiency, better quality of life -- but also greater evil and destruction, a "genius for wickedness." Anyone taking a look at what is happening around us will notice a basic fact that is difficult to ignore. There is a kind of paradoxical "law" under which material advancement is the harbinger of moral degeneration. Technology is advancing by leaps and bounds and the levels of morality and humane behavior are at their nadir.

The Chovos Halevovos pointed this out hundreds of years before the first computer was invented. "Then the evil inclination beguiled them to neglect the cultivation of that world which would have led to their salvation, and thus they departed from the ways of their forefathers who had limited themselves to what was necessary and to the extent it was necessary and were content with what sufficed for their livelihood. In the eyes of the descendants, the evil inclination made hoarding and increase of this world's wealth seem beautiful and enjoyment of its pleasures and self- aggrandizement in it desirable, till at last they sank in the depths of the seas of indulgence. The evil inclination forced them to suffer the pain of being tossed by their waves. The more the land was settled, the more did their understanding deteriorate, as it is written, "Beware lest you forget Hashem your G-d! Lest when you have eaten and are satisfied and have built goodly houses to dwell therein, and when your herds and your flock multiply -- your heart will be lifted up and you forget Hashem your G-d." And the more their lusts increased and strengthened, the weaker became their understanding and the more it delayed attaining the proper course" (Shaar Haprishus, Chapters 2 and 7).

HaRav Eliyahu Dessler zt"l, based on the Chovos Halevovos, writes that a civilization which is preoccupied with developing the external and the material, and neglects the inner moral content will eventually degenerate to its lowest possible depths. Our accelerated modern progress will only accelerate the process of deterioration by providing contemporary society with new powerful weapons of corruption.

"People will think in their arrogance, that if they develop this world and increase their scientific activities and inventions in order to perfect and enjoy it, they will have a perfect world -- but they are greatly mistaken. All their improvements are in actual fact a deterioration of standards. The more the civilization develops, the more it destroys itself. They refuse to understand that evil vices destroy everything. If human beings would be "givers," then this world would be perfect. But they are "takers," and this causes much harm: they seize, quarrel and fight. They utilize all their inventions for destructive purposes.

"Take for example shortened travel times due to aviation. The damage done by this is obvious. Before air travel, wars caused devastation only in a localized area. Now they can easily result in worldwide destruction. Chazal have already said that the gathering of tzadikim is beneficial for them and beneficial for the world, whereas a meeting of reshoim is bad for them and bad for everyone. Even though every invention and development may be used for good, that is only if tzadikim use it. It is the mistake of humanity to think that improvement of one's character traits happens on its own -- such an opinion is not worthy of even the stupidest fool. Only when the Melech Hamoshiach will come, and the whole world will be filled with the knowledge of Hashem as the waters cover the sea, and people will become givers -- only then will this world also become perfected."

He writes that we can derive this outlook on worldly knowledge and technology from the "first inventor" in the Torah: Tuval Kayin, inventor of all copper and iron instruments. How would we have reacted to this invention if we would have been his contemporaries? We most probably would have been thrilled and excited. Until that time people were forced to till their land with their bare hands, rocks or sticks. Along came the famous inventor Tuval Kayin and eased their work burden considerably, by means of the discovery of metal and its varied uses.

But Chazal explain that the Torah actually saw destruction in these developments. Tuval Kayin increased the potential for ruin. "Tuval Kayin spices Kayin's art, Tuval from the word tavlin (spice). He spiced and improved Kayin's skill by making weapons for murderers (Rashi Bereishis, 4:22).

The words of the Michtav MeEliahu on aviation science that "before air travel, wars caused devastation only in a localized area. Now they can result in worldwide destruction" are also very pertinent to what is happening at the moment with the cellular telephone. The ability to communicate without telephone wires at any time and in any place allows for the precise detonation of any explosive device from a distance, and any owner of a cellular telephone can become a wily and murderous terrorist.

The problem is not only in the negative use of progress, Rav Dessler explains, but in the enslavement to boundless materialism. He explains that this was the mistake of the generation of the flood and that they were therefore punished by springs of waters from the depths of the earth opening up first -- middo keneged middo because they had focused upon developing the materialism and physicality of this world. But they persevered in their erroneous ways, as the Medrash Tanchuma says: "The mercy of an evildoer is cruel -- this is the dor hamabul that was cruel! When Hashem began bringing up the waters of the depths, they took their sons and put them upon the springs to plug them up." The Agodas Bereishis adds: "They had many sons and each one would take one of his sons and put him upon the springs and tie him with patchwork so that the waters would not escape. But the waters would increase and overcome this and they would then take their other children and put them on the depths. Their mercy, the mercy of the wicked, is cruel."

HaRav Dessler writes: "The explanation of these puzzling words is this: the more that people try to improve this world, the more their troubles will backlash upon them more than ever. Instead of realizing they are drowning in materialism, they search for further ways to enhance physicality in the hope that they may attain happiness in this world, and when they see this is not so, they look for means of at least granting their children happiness. It is astounding how far man is from understanding that he is heading for ruin. Also in our generation when we see how the invention of industrial machinery has resulted in the unemployment of tens of thousands in every country, and how rising standards of living has resulted in added anxiety and difficulty.

"All their research into economics only results in further damage. Nevertheless, everyone is still convinced that very soon the world will develop to physical perfection and good, and if this generation will not achieve this, then at least it will come in the next generation, and in this way they educate their children to cling to the material and to develop it. This is what it means that they put their children to block up the wellsprings of the deep to prevent them from drowning. They refuse to recognize that their children will gain nothing from this either. Even when they put reinforcing patches upon them, patches upon patches, they will not be able to quell the upcoming destruction caused by tumoh. Therefore their mercy upon their children is cruelty -- for they will hasten their destruction."

He concludes: "Happiness in this world comes only as a result of being content with what one has in this world, and striving intensively for spirituality, as Chazal say (Ovos 6:4): "Such is the way of Torah, eat bread with salt and drink water in a measure, . . . and if you do thus, you are happy in this world and it is good for you in the World to Come."

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