We’ve all read about or heard stories about people who may have been locked away in prison or even constricted to solitary confinement yet still found themselves miles away from their physical imprisonment in the mindset of a free man. Conversely, we may have read about or we may even know people who have the wealth and time to explore various ventures, and partake from a wide array of experiences, and yet feel enslaved; engrossed and entrapped by financial and social obligations. What makes a person free?
Rav Soloveichik explains that that there is a methodical connection between the concepts of Tefillah/Prayer and Geula/Redemption. The Gemara clearly emphasizes the importance of connecting the Bracha “Gaal Yisrael” to Tefillah – Shmone Esrei. The reason for this is because Tefillah allots us an opportunity to speak and express ourselves to our Creator. The very thought of being able to converse with Hashem is exceptionally invigorating and therefore it is the power of speech which facilitates Tefillah, the same power which facilitates Geula. A slave is broken and unable to express himself; his ability to think is repressed as his thought process is victimized by his master’s will. On the other hand a free man is one who can express and relate a story with interest, clarity and purpose. The free man is a “mitpalel” and a “mesaper”, which is precisely why Chazal emphasized the importance of “sipur yetziat Mitzrayim – relating the story of our exodus from Egypt” on “Pessach”. The word “Pessach” is the derivative of two Hebrew words, “Peh – mouth” “sach – speak”, when our mouths speak with reason we distinguish ourselves from the rest of the animal kingdom; through our ability to think, process and articulate; that is when we become free men and we can anticipate redemption. Redemption is fully achieved when our faculties are used to focus on a worthy cause and moral purpose which is precisely the statement we make when we pray and demonstrate our devotion to Hashem.
This past week I saw an article in The Atlantic, which spoke about the challenges some Jewish people may have observing the Shabbat during an age of advanced technology. The outstanding issue was that of the “ebook” and “Kindle” and how one could bypass Shabbat prohibitions in order to facilitate using these electronic tools on Shabbat. Some suggestions were made that perhaps there would be a special Kindle that could bypass Shabbat prohibitions by disabling its buttons, turning itself on at a preset time, and flipping through a book at a predetermined clip. Even if these special halachic guidelines could be instituted, the question is not necessarily or exclusively, the halachic format of Shabbat, but more importantly the conservation of the spiritual nature of Shabbat.
Rabbi Jeffery Fox, referred to in the article as a “Modern Orthodox rabbi” explained that e-readers should not be used,
“because they are a step away from forbidden activity and because, in epitomizing our weekday existence, aren’t appropriate for the Shabbat”.
Rabbi Daniel Nevins, dean of the rabbinical school at the Conservative Movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, explained that even if an e-reader is invented that adheres to Jewish law, such a device could undermine the Shabbat’s values which is about reinforcing boundaries of space and time to enable a specific experience,
“If we become too relaxed about this we could lose the distinctive flavor of Shabbat.”
We live in an advanced technological age which has wondrous advantages, but a Jewish person has to have the freedom of mind and spirit, to know when to turn off the technology for the sake of sustaining tradition and preserving a spirit; one who cannot do so and opts not too, may very well be a technologically advanced slave as Rabbi Fox concluded in the article,
“There’s real value in embracing technology, it’s just about knowing when to turn it off”.
Someone who cannot turn things off may never experience redemption or taste what it means to be a free man.