It’s the morning after Passover and I feel
kind of jovial. 3321 years – yes, that’s three millennia,
three centuries, two decades and one year – have passed
since the Jewish people marched out in freedom from a profound
physical and psychological bondage. So much has happened
in the interim – from devastating tragedies to soaring celebrations.
Volumes can, and have, been written. We have stood at the
brink of the abyss, faced total annihilation so many times.
And yet, despite the thousands of years, despite the odds,
we are still here to tell about it. Regardless of what we
have endured, we now come off of celebrating Passover 2009,
together with our families and loved ones, together with
friends and new acquaintances – and the story lives on.
When you find yourself in these types of funky spaces all
kinds of memories crop up inside of your brain. Sometimes
they are significant memories and sometimes just plain quirky
ones that have no meaning to anyone but you.
Two such whimsical moments emerged in my mind this morning
– I am clueless as to why – and they both have
one thing in common: In both incidents I was scolded with
the charming salutation “shame on you.”
The first happened several years ago. I spent a weekend
Shabbat in the Upper East Side of Manhattan for a speaking
engagement. After the morning prayers, I was walking back
to my sister’s home draped in my Tallit prayer shawl.
As we were crossing the street a well-dressed woman, carrying
two shopping bags – I would say, she was in her sixties
–hissed at me: “Shame on you…”
The person accompanying me was about to blurt something
out to her before I grasped his arm and stopped him. “What
were going to say to her?” I asked my friend. He was
going to tell her “you have some nerve! You should
be ashamed of yourself shopping on Shabbat instead of going
to services.” He assumed that the woman was Jewish;
who else would be bothered by a man in a prayer shawl? Anyway,
nothing actually was said to the woman and we just walked
on. Over the years the episode became a wistful, but distant,
The second time was a few weeks ago. Not to miss out on
the new social networking revolution – or to be more
precise: to utilize this medium to maximize our work of
reaching people with spiritually relevant messages –
we recently joined Facebook, and invited some friends to
join as well utilizing Facebook’s offer and tools
to do so. One bright morning my office forwards me an e-mail
from one anonymous reader: “Shemen zolstu zich…”
Shame on you (in Yiddish).
This “shame on you” is coming from the other extreme: Someone
who feels that Facebook, and inviting friends to Facebook,
Now, I am not in the custom of replying to anonymous notes
for the simple reason that if someone wants to criticize
let him show his face and stand behind his words, instead
of hiding behind a “safe” mask with nothing
to lose. The only reason I am mentioning this is because
it reminded of the first “shame on you” hurled
Frankly, I was not in the least bothered or insulted by
both these episodes. On the contrary: As a speaker I have
learned to embrace “hecklers,” for the opportunity
that they provide to demonstrate both the right for everyone
to voice their opinion, even if its contrary to your own,
as well as the ability to address confrontation and provocation,
which often evokes deeper insights, not to mention drama.
We cannot deny the “entertainment” factor that
“challenges” bring into play.
Now that I think about it, both “shameful”
experiences had one powerful thing in common: Both find
it difficult to bridge faith and modernity. The former is
ashamed of someone who wears his faith in public; and the
latter is disturbed by the use of technology in spreading
I’m sure that I don’t have to point out the irony that
the fellow with the Facebook problem is communicating his
issues via e-mail being transmitted on the Internet. Why,
may I ask, are e-mail and the Internet holier than Facebook?
In fact, many people feel threatened by e-mail and other
new technologies. The historical reality is that all new
technology is always looked at suspiciously by some, until
it becomes mainstream. Technology is, as they say, anything
invented after you were born. The printing press, books
and many tools we now take for granted, were once the products
of a new technology. Never deceive yourself into thinking
that the instruments you have embraced and are accustomed
to are less technological than the new emerging ones.
Just that we are absolutely clear: I am in no way endorsing
Facebook or for that matter any other application or tool.
On the other hand, technology does not need my or anyone’s
endorsement. It is part of the awesome power and energy
infused into existence by the Divine, with the purpose of
tapping and using these forces to transform the material
universe into a spiritual environment.
This is the mission of all our lives, each fulfilling it
with our own unique skills. Our challenge – and choice
– is to use technology and all the gifts we were blessed
with not merely for personal gain and self-interest, or
for entertainment and killing time, but for bettering the
world in which we live.
The MLC, including myself, has been blessed with the opportunity
to reach many people from all walks of life, and share together
the warmth of spirituality and discover together the higher
meaning of our lives. As such, we attempt to use all available
channels to distribute information and inspiration, in ways
that will reach people through the mediums they are utilizing.
Facebook is one of the places where many people congregate.
We obviously don't impose on anyone which medium they want
to use, and respect each individual's preferences.
And so, a morning-after-Passover daydream about “shame
on you” has, with this pen, turned into a post-Passover
meditation about the integration of our modern world with
the underpinnings of spirituality. Can we join the two?
Many are afraid of faith and the passions it releases. They
can’t be blamed: We have, after all, seen the extreme
abuses of religion, the killings, destruction and persecution
wreaked in the name of faith, both over the millennia, and
now originating in the Middle East. Many other are afraid
of the excesses of materialism and the indulgences unleashed
by technologies. They too cannot be blamed: We have witnessed
far too many times how prosperity and technology spoils
people, spawns greed, overwhelms the spirit.
Today’s economic troubles only testify to the consequences
of unaccountable prosperity, real or delusional, to the
power of greed and to the corruption let loose when success
is undisciplined and gets out of control.
In our fast-paced society, with ever-accelerating gadgets
whizzing all around us, we often crave some quietude, some
simplicity, a bit of peace.
Passover teaches us the third path. The path of balance.
Eight days of sublimating the ego (symbolized by inflated
bread) and embracing humility (symbolized by the bare-bones
matzah), eight days of passionately accessing transcendence
and freedom, empowers us with the ability to integrate the
two worlds: Spirit and matter, faith and modernity.
Only when armed with a humble sense of mission and a determined
drive of urgency, can our higher beliefs stand proud in
public. Only then can we harness the tools of technology
and use them for their true end: to sublimate our world.
Only then can we master technology instead of it mastering
Maybe this humility and persistence allowed us to get through
3321 difficult years…
Now, when we live in free and prosperous times, the Passover
message is as clear as ever: We do not have to fear bridging
our most sublime ideals with our mundane investments.
We have our calling – and we have our work cut out for
us. One we can embrace not with shame, but with… profound