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Holidays, Technologies & the ‘Reel’ World

(Insights from this week’s Portion: Pinchas)


Is it fair that my Wife has a GPS in her car and I don’t, when she has the street savvy of a bloodhound and I have the navigational know-how of Mr. Magoo?*

GPS TAKE I: Notwithstanding the seeming injustice of it all, when I’m in my Wife’s car and happen to find myself in a deeper mood, my glances at the GPS conjure up the following saying from our Sages: “Consider three things and you will not come into the grip of transgression: know what is above you – a watchful Eye, an attentive Ear, and all your deeds are recorded in a Book”. ** “A watchful eye” from “above”: is there anything better to bring this concept home for us than the GPS? Think about it: in order for a GPS to get us where we’re going, Earth orbit satellites are used to pinpoint our current whereabouts, tracking our every move from “Outer Space”. Talk about a watchful Eye from the Heavens! While other forms of technology provide us with insights into the “attentive Ear” and “recorded deeds”, the GPS lends us a tangible analogy for the “watchful Eye”, vividly illustrating the fact that our every step can be observed from “above”.

GPS TAKE II: A Rabbi that my Wife and I know first encountered a GPS from a passenger seat and curiously made the following request of the driver: “Do me a favor: don’t listen to it!” “What?” “If it tells you to go one way, go the other way”. And so the driver did! Our Rabbi fixed his eyes on the GPS, eagerly awaiting the reaction of this authoritative apparatus: “Recalculating” was its humble response. “What a tremendous lesson!” he mused. “When we went the wrong way, it didn’t yell and scream and call us morons. It simply adapted to a new approach and incorporated our misstep into a new means of reaching our destination. We human beings also play the roles of Global Positioners, entrusted to navigate our children, students, and employees through their individual paths in life. We should learn from the GPS to respond with equanimity when they make wrong turns – to go with the flow and readjust our originally recommended routes, calmly continuing to assist them in reaching their destinations.”


Jewish wisdom informs us that the GPS perspectives above may very well be more than just interesting interpretations; that part of technology’s very purpose is to provide us with tangible analogies that will help us relate to spiritual realities. In other words, technology – along with seasons, animals, places, art, relationships, and everything else in the physical/emotional universe – exists in part to mirror a higher reality and transmit a deeper message that might otherwise be beyond our grasp. Nowhere does this concept seem to hold truer than with Jewish Holidays, which we get an overview of in this week’s Torah Portion.

Now, there are a few primary perspectives that people seem to possess in viewing the Jewish Holidays: 1) an opportunity to sample seasonal delicacies; 2) a chance to commemorate and proudly celebrate important events in our history; 3) a time to reconnect with the agricultural cycle on which our ancestors were dependent; 4) an opportunity to capture and harness the unique energy of each respective holiday that emanates anew every year, offering us a heightened potential for awareness and growth. While #’s 1-3 may possess varying degrees of validity, #4 seems to provide the vantage point that most resonates with essential Jewish thought.


The Season in which a Jewish Holiday falls (particularly in Israel) is hardly haphazard or incidental. PASSOVER corresponds with the spring because “the coming of spring is an indication that God smiles at man and offers him an opportunity to free himself from the shackles of his wintry discontent. It is time for man to aspire to freedom and a new beginning – just as Israel did centuries ago when it burst free from the physical and spiritual bondage of Egypt.” *** SHAVUOT corresponds with the early harvest because while “springtime works wonders on the fields… it would all be a waste unless the crops are harvested. The crop of human freedom is more precious than any found on field or tree, but it too will do no good unless it is harvested. On Shavuot, God informed His foundling nation Israel of the PURPOSE of its freedom – to make itself a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:6). By accepting the Torah, Israel gave meaning to its existence. Otherwise, the crop of freedom would have become the rot of license and self-indulgence that has corrupted and destroyed so many civilizations. ***

So too, all of the Jewish Holidays seasonally correspond with the Divine messages they are meant to communicate. “In the Torah's perspective, the "real" world is the spiritual one; the physical world is the way in which God translates His will into messages that human beings can understand…. Like an ELECTRONIC PRINTER translating impulses into a picture of a far-off event, ‘nature’ translates God's gift of spiritual rejuvenation into the physical manifestations of springtime”. *** Or similarly, we might say that “nature” serves as God’s global film projector, translating the spiritual emanations from the “Reel” World onto the screen of human endeavor. Regardless of which analogies speak to us most meaningfully, may we all fine-tune our abilities to access the true messages available in technology, the physical world, the changing seasons, and our precious Holiday opportunities!

Have a Wonderful Shabbos! Love, Jon & The Chevra

* Mr. Magoo is a loveable yet ineptly near-sighted cartoon character

** Avos (Ethics of the Fathers), 2:1

***Excerpted from the "ArtScroll Sukkot Machzor" – published by ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications Ltd., Brooklyn, NY.

Text Copyright © 2008 by Jon Erlbaum and



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