Everything G-d created in His world He
created to express His glory
-- Mishne Avot 6:11
In the early 1950s, a couple and their young daughter
had a private audience with the Rebbe. After the wife and
husband had asked for advice on various issues, the Rebbe
turned to the six-year-old girl and asked if she had any
questions. Her parents tried to hush her up as she began
to speak, so as not to take the Rebbe's valuable time. But
the Rebbe encouraged her to go ahead. The little girl, with
a concerned look on her face, asked the Rebbe whether he
thought that atomic energy was good or bad. In your
kitchen at home, there is a knife, the Rebbe said.
Is the knife good or bad? The little girl replied,
It depends what it is used for. If it is used to cut
food, then it is good. If it is used to hurt someone, then
it is bad.
That is a good and true answer, the Rebbe
told her, and the same could be said for atomic energy
or any other technology that man has developed.
During many of his discourses, broadcast
around the world via cable and satellite relays, the Rebbe
would encourage the use of modern communications to unite
mankind. He explained how people across the globe, normally
divided by space and time, are suddenly unified, creating
an opportunity for them to study together, pray together,
and resolve to do one more good deed, thereby forming a
universal wave of togetherness. One might think, What
can I possibly accomplish sitting in this tiny corner on
this huge planet of billions of people? the
Rebbe said. Today, we see how one person lighting
a candle in his tiny corner can illuminate the entire world.
Technology: Vice or virtue?
The computer age and the information revolution have given
all of us enormous power and the ability to reach virtually
anyone at any time. Yes, technology allows us to live more
comfortably and work more efficiently, but can we understand
how it makes our lives more meaningful?
On its own, science is neutral; it attempts to give us
an objective view of our physical universe and its natural
forces, but it does not draw a conclusion as to how we should
use these forces. It does not deal with good and evil or
with questions of morality. At its best, science acknowledges
its own boundaries, recognizing that it is neither the basis
nor the code for moral doctrine.
Technology, as with all forces in our lives, can be used
either constructively or destructively. Developments such
as television, computers, and lasers, and discoveries in
nuclear energy, medicine, and biology -- these are all instances
of G-dly forces that are manifested in nature. Man has been
charged with tapping those resources to refine and civilize
the world, to transform our material surroundings into a
proper home for spirituality and G-dliness.
We can choose to acknowledge the hand inside the
glove, understanding where the power truly comes from,
and use these forces as tools to lead a more meaningful
life. Or we can choose to be distracted by the glove, to
see technology only as a means unto itself, using it for
indulgent, selfish, perhaps even destructive purposes.
Why is it important to understand technology?
The sweeping technological changes that have taken place
during the past several generations are in keeping with
the prediction some two thousand years ago in the Zohar,
a classical text of mysticism, stating that in the year
1840, there would be an outburst of lower wisdom,
or advancements in the physical universe, and an increase
in sublime wisdom, or spirituality, would begin
to usher true unity into the world, leading toward the final
The increase in both types of wisdom -- wisdom of the mind
and wisdom of the soul -- has surely come to pass; where
we have fallen short is in integrating these spheres of
knowledge. Only by balancing the scientific with the spiritual
can we transform the dream of an ideal future into a functional
blueprint for society, for true communication can begin
only when human minds and souls interact. With communication
comes understanding; with understanding comes compassion;
and with compassion comes a natural movement toward universalism.
So the current technological revolution is in fact the
hand of G-d at work; it is meant to help us make G-d a reality
in our lives. And as time goes on, science will show itself
more and more to parallel the truths of G-d, thereby revealing
the intrinsic unity in the entire universe.
The divine purpose of the present information revolution,
for instance, which gives an individual unprecedented power
and opportunity, is to allow us to share knowledge -- spiritual
knowledge with each other, empowering and unifying individuals
everywhere. We need to utilize todays interactive
technology not just for business or leisure but to interlink
as people -- to create a welcome environment for the interaction
of our souls, our hearts, our visions.
There is much to learn from the technological revolution,
as long as we understand its role in our lives and see it
as a final step in our dramatic search for unity throughout
the universe. After all, developments in science and technology
have taught us to be more sensitive to the intangible and
the sublime: the forces behind computers, telephones, television,
and so on are all invisible, and yet we fully recognize
their power and reach. Similarly, we must come to accept
that the driving force behind the entire universe is
intangible and sublime, and we must come to experience the
transcendent and G-dly in every single thing -- beginning,
of course with ourselves.
With all our human capacity for technological advancement,
we must never forget our higher objective. We must strive
to enhance our scientific search for truth by constantly
expanding our spiritual search for the divine.
Understanding science and technology as divine tools for
our personal and spiritual growth is critical for our well-being.
It is well and good to learn to program a computer, but
unless a student also acquires a sense of discipline and
integrity, he or she might just as easily use that skill
to wreak technological havoc as to obtain a job.
The best students -- and the best teachers -- recognize
that there is much to be learned by inspecting the failure
of cultures before ours. By doing so, it becomes painfully
clear that no amount of wisdom or technology can overcome
a value system that encourages selfishness or evil. We must
strive, therefore, to transcend humanity by constantly expanding
our spiritual search.
This is an excerpt from Toward a Meaningful Life
The Wisdom of the Rebbe by Rabbi Simon Jacobson.