Steve Jobs’ Contribution to the New Spiritual Revolution
When Apple released the first iPad in April 2010, I wrote an article titled Steve Jobs and Passover, contrasting today’s technological revolution and the Torah’s spiritual revolution initiated by Abraham close to 4000 years ago, closing with the question: Who will rise today as a spiritual Steve Jobs, ready to pioneer a new spiritual path?
With the untimely passing of Mr. Jobs, at the young age of 56, I would like to add a second part to that original article and discuss the parallels between the two revolutions – the technology or information revolution, and the spiritual revolution.
In the first article I emphasized the difference between the two revolutions, and the limitations of the technology revolution to actually make us better people and turn this world into a nicer place.
But that being said, the breakthroughs in technology and spirituality are in fact very much connected.
A 2000 Year-Old Prediction
Some two thousand years ago the Zohar (I 117a), the classical text of mysticism, made the following radical prediction:
Beginning in 1840 (corresponding with the Industrial Revolution), there would be a dual revolution – an explosion of scientific wisdom coupled with an outburst of spiritual wisdom – which would begin ushering in true unity into the world, leading toward the final redemption.
The Zohar’s prediction is based on the verse (Genesis 7:11): In the six-hundredth year in the life of Noah… all wellsprings of the great deep burst open, and the windows of heaven were opened. The Zohar interprets this to mean: “in the sixth century of the sixth millennium, the gates of the supernal wisdom will be opened, as will the springs of the earthly wisdom, preparing the world to be elevated in the seventh millennium.”
Indeed, the fifty-sixth century from creation (1740-1840 in the Gregorian calendar) was a time of great discovery and accelerated development, both in the supernal wisdom of Torah and in the earthly wisdom of secular science. This was the century in which the mystical teachings of Chassidism were revealed and disseminated by Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov and his disciples. The inner soul of Torah, which until then had been the province of a select number of mystics in each generation, was made accessible to all, imparting a new depth to our understanding of divine unity and the inherent spirit within our lives and the cosmos, infusing vitality and joy into our traditions.
As these supernal revelations poured forth from windows of heaven, the earthly wellsprings answered in kind. The same century saw an unprecedented eruption of knowledge in all fields of secular science—in mathematics, physics, medicine and technology—revolutionizing all areas of human life.
According to the Zohar, this dual revolution came to prepare the world for the “seventh millennium”—the Messianic era, when the six “workday” millennia of history will culminate in an age of total fusion and unity between matter and spirit, a time “that is wholly Shabbat and tranquility for life everlasting.”
Since the year 1840 (5600 in the Hebrew calendar) this technological revolution has only accelerated, growing exponentially faster and faster with each passing year. To the point that the speed of technology today doubles every second year (according to Moore’s Law), and in many areas expands even faster, with new innovations emerging at breathtaking speed.
In the past few decades, Steve Jobs was at the center of this revolution.
The Search for Unity
All of science and technology is about discovering unity. Science, first and foremost, seeks to find the unifying laws and principles that govern the widely diverse systems of our universe. Technology aims to cut down and eliminate the divisions between time and space, between matter and energy.
You can say that the ultimate technological nirvana, the epitome of scientific utopia would be a total fusion of both entities – matter and spirit, body and soul, form and function, machine and purpose.
Think of a computer. Your press a letter on a keypad and poof – words appear on a screen, which then can be transmitted and printed anywhere. Steve Jobs took that to another level, fusing design and technology, where with the mere touch of your hand you could produce your desired results.
Once upon a time you would have needed to etch the same letters in stone, which took much time and effort. And then send it on foot or on horseback (or camelback) to its intended recipient, which could take months if not years.
Today, with one small touch you trigger electrical impulses that in turn are converted into digital language, which produce all your intended results – and ship your message instantaneously anywhere in the universe!
Three hundred years ago, a teacher could communicate directly only with those who were within range of his voice; today, his words and image can be broadcast to billions of people in all parts of the globe.
Steve Jobs was perhaps the greatest developer of technology of our time. What he accomplished above all was create a seamless revolution in the world of culture and technology, machines that serve as intuitive extensions of our human senses. Invisible instruments that bridge matter and energy in unprecedented ways.
Jobs understood and innovated the fusion of design, technology, culture and information – forging first-time deals with content and music providers – basically creating a seamless flow, from the source to the recipient, with the minimal amount of resistance. He took technology to another level of seamlessness — turning it into a natural cultural expression.
Mr. Jobs expressed it best in this January 2000 Fortune magazine interview, discussing his obsession with design (notice his use of the word soul):
“We don’t have good language to talk about this kind of thing,” Mr. Jobs said. “In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains and the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service. The iMac is not just the color or translucence or the shape of the shell. The essence of the iMac is to be the finest possible consumer computer in which each element plays together. … That is the furthest thing from veneer. It was at the core of the product the day we started. This is what customers pay us for — to sweat all these details so it’s easy and pleasant for them to use our computers. We’re supposed to be really good at this. That doesn’t mean we don’t listen to customers, but it’s hard for them to tell you what they want when they’ve never seen anything remotely like it.”
In a recent interview, Gadi Amit, founder and principal designer of New Deal Design in San Francisco, put it this way: “Most people underestimate his grandeur and his greatness. They think it’s about design. It’s beyond design. It’s completely holistic, and it’s dogmatic. Things need to be high quality; they have to have poetry and culture in each step. Steve was cut from completely different cloth from most business leaders. He was not a number-crunching guy; he was not a technologist. He was a cultural leader, and he drove Apple from that perspective. He started with culture; then followed with technology and design. No one seems to get that.”
Steve Jobs’s legacy will be, Mr. Amit continued, “the blending of technology and poetry. It’s not about design per se; it’s the poetic aspect of the entire enterprise. Compared to Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, he’s in a different class. I think this is a revolutionary shift. Jobs is a revolutionary character. He shifted the industry and changed our lives through this amalgamation of culture and technology. If you’re looking for C.E.O.’s of this caliber, you have to look outside the engineering and business schools. That is truly revolutionary.”
If Steve Jobs were a conductor, he would be superconductor – creating instruments that are seamless expressions and extensions, with (almost) zero resistance, of a person’s mind and intuition, as well as of his fingers, ears, mouth and other faculties.
And who knows what else he would have accomplished had he lived longer.
Whether intentional or not, this fusion is in fact driven by the integral Divine unity in all of existence. The soul of this integration is the fusion between matter and spirit.
So we can say that Steve Jobs was a pioneer in the eternal human search for unity.
The Yom Kippur Connection
The Torah calls Yom Kippur achas b’shana. Achas b’shana means much more than just “once a year.” Every holiday takes place once a year. And yet the verse uses the term achas b’shana only regarding Yom Kippur. Achas b’shana means “oneness in the year,” that once a year, on this special day, the ultimate oneness of Divine unity radiates. Yechida – l’yachdecho.
The soul has five dimensions. Yom Kippur is the day of Yechida – when the fifth and innermost level of the soul is revealed.
Our mission in life all year round is to reveal the inherent unity within all of existence; to integrate matter and spirit, body and soul. But throughout the year that unity is concealed and harder to uncover. On Yom Kippur, achas b’shana, the layers are removed and we have unfiltered access to the unity of Yechida, which is one with the unity of the Divine essence. Yom Kippur infuses us with the power to channel that unity into existence all year round.
The Missing Ingredient
The dual revolution 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.
The revolution will take complete hold only when both elements – science and soul – are fused together as one.
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 unity our natural state of being. 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 today’s 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, the internet, mobile and cloud technology, 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.
Where Are We Headed?
For many people technology is disconnected from its soul. The information revolution is for many just a new way to make money, entertainment, a way to further indulge, or just a plain deluge. In part one I described the shortcomings of the technology revolution devoid and divorced from its soul.
But that doesn’t diminish its true and vital nature – as a twin expression to the revolution of the “upper (higher) knowledge,” and precursor to the age of “a world filled with Divine knowledge as the waters cover the sea.”
Indeed, a fundamental principle in Torah is that “nothing was created for naught,” and “everything in this universe was created to express Divine honor.” Gold, the Midrash tells us, was created for the Holy Temple to be used for sacred purposes to refine and elevate our world. But in order that there be free will, in order to give us the dignity of choice, gold was also placed in the human domain where we can choose to use it for our own selfish purposes, or be wise enough to understand and appreciate the true purpose of gold and use it accordingly.
The same is with technology. Even though the actual instrument and machines are man-made, they are using and tapping into forces embedded in nature that are part of G-d’s creation from the beginning of time. The purpose of these formidable forces is to be used, like gold, to refine and sublimate the material world, and transform it into a spiritual environment and home. Only, G-d wanted us to be partners in this drama and process, so we have the free will to choose and initiate the use of technology towards its intended objectives (ends), namely to fill the world with Divine knowledge.
Just because some (or even many) people misunderstand and misuse technology doesn’t mean that technology is bad and it should be destroyed. As the sages answered the Roman philosophers who asked then why G-d doesn’t destroy the sun and the moon to prevent them from being worshipped as idols: “should God destroy His world because of fools?” (Avodah Zara 54a)
By creating instruments and tools that broke down the gap dissonance between man and technology, man and machine, Steve Jobs’ innovations helped refine the material world and make it a more seamless channel for energy.
As such, he helped – knowingly or not – prepare the world for the ultimate refinement, when every cell of material existence will channel Divine energy. A world in which the “stone in the wall will cry out” and the very “flesh” of our physical universe will see and hear and express its inner soul. Every last fiber of matter will sing Divine music.
Who Will be the Spiritual Steve Jobs?
The first revolution – in science and technology (“earthly wisdom”) – is well in place. The second revolution – in spirituality and Divine knowledge (“supernal wisdom”) – has to now catch up.
Steve Jobs (and the other three horsemen today, Google, Facebook, Amazon) created a seamless revolution in the world of technology – fusion in the tools we use.
We need to now each become a spiritual “Steve Jobs” and create an equally powerful seamless revolution of spiritual fusion, integrating matter and spirit — the mundane and the divine — in an all encompassing unity, that joins our ideals and our actions, mind and heart, values and survival.
There is no better day than Yom Kippur to begin the revolution…