Fences, laws and self control in Judaism

This whole Asifa gathering, which brought together over 40,000 orthodox Jews from around the world, has got me thinking about fences, mitzvot and the big picture.

I’m a big believer of individual responsibility. Growing up in a communist regime with extreme censorship ‘for the greater good’ has made me very skeptical about blanket directives. I think we should always ask ourselves: what is the true purpose?

So what is the true purpose and the big picture of Judaism? The two basic perspectives seem to be: to connect to the spiritual through the physical, or to disconnect from the physical to reveal the spiritual. But does physical equate to gashmius (material), to technology, to modern ways of doing things, to entertainment? Does what we have access to in today’s world exist to trip us up, and therefore needs to be avoided, or is it a channel to reach more people, to use what we have in front of us for Torah, for connection to Hashem?

I’m inclined to believe that everything in front of us can be used for bad or for good. Ultimately what we choose is our individual challenge. Just like Internet can be used to look up porn or find shiurim, similarly the intrinsically spiritual things in the world can be used for good or for bad. Is wine intrinsically holy but could be abused by individuals or is it intrinsically physical (and potentially addictive) but we raise it up with a bracha to make it holy? What then does it mean to be intrinsically holy in the context of physicality and spirituality? Is intimacy kept so private in Judaism because it is so holy to begin with or because it is so physical and can only become holy in certain circumstances? I guess the question is, what came first, the chicken or the egg? The spiritual or the physical? From the little I know of Judaism I would say spiritual came first to the world, but physical came first in relation to man. The blueprint of Torah and the holy Hebrew language came before the world was created, and yet Adam was created from the earth and only after did Hashem give him a soul. So maybe therein lies the answer? The world is intrinsically spiritual and we are intrinsically physical.

The Torah instructs us to choose good, to choose life. Yet, we need filters on our internet to make sure we don’t stray? For children, fine, I understand needing to have restrictions while teaching self control, but adults? Isn’t the point of saying brachos on our food and the other myriad of Halachos to help teach us self control?

Maybe in an ideal world, if we could live up to our spiritual inheritance we wouldn’t need filters or fences. But, as intrinsically physical beings we do need them. We need someone to say “no, that’s enough” because we’re too disconnected from Hashem to realize He can see us anyway. If we were really connected to Hashem we wouldn’t need to connect on Facebook; we would have no void to fill and no time to waste. The Rabbis who created the fences around the mitzvot knew that physical beings need physical deterrents. Now I guess it’s no different. We’re not trusted to self monitor online because we simply can’t. The idea is, if we can’t connect to Hashem, we can’t self monitor.

So yes, I will keep blogging, tweeting, pinning, emailing, posting and liking. I will because I’m not as connected to Hashem as I’d like to be. I would like to connect to the Source and therefore not need anything else, but I am not there yet, and most likely, neither are you. Get yourself a filter, make plans not to waste time on the Internet, and most importantly, connect to connect, not to disconnect, and pray that one day you will be great enough to disconnect to connect.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Miriam says:

    I appreciate your post. Internet time and filtering controls are issues I am struggling with, on the one hand appreciating what it gives me but on the other very frustrated by what it simultaneously threatens and takes away. So thank you for the food for thought.

    By saying that connection to people via internet is only because we don’t connect fully to HKB”H, that seems to put internet usage in the not-able-to-truly-elevate.

    I would modify that – there is positive potential, even realized potential, in blogs and even facebook. The problem is the medium is very tricky and people need (a) social and self-awareness skills to better know themselves and (b) more information about the use of the medium for different types of connection and communication, in order to judge what is constructive vs. destructive.

    Right now there is a lack of thinking information, and a constant bombardment to engage vs. think.

    1. Baal Teshuva says:

      Thank you Miriam for your thoughtful feedback. I work in the digital and social media space and am very familiar with the fine line you refer to. It’s a challenge to be constantly ‘above board’ and use these mediums for the good. May we all have the strength and insight to do this.

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