Rabbi Joey Haber, rav of Congregation Magen David in Brooklyn, visited Queens earlier this summer for a special night of inspiration on the life-altering topic of technology today. “Our job tonight is not to recite a token chapter of T’hilim. I need to shake your core. All of us must recognize and admit our weaknesses. Say no to the smartphone, and yes to a smart life.”
The event, presented by Chazaq, filled the beis k’neses of Congregation TOV in Kew Gardens Hills beyond capacity with mostly young men and women eager to be uplifted. Rabbi Yaniv Meirov opened the evening with powerful T’hilim. May the legacy of Michael Chaim ben Ilanit Nisanov z”l, who was niftar shortly after this event, at the tender age of 20 following an illness, live on in our good deeds and Torah learning.
Personal struggles with the technology available in our midst are by far the most consuming topic of concern for today’s susceptible younger generation. “I went to the Cheder in Lakewood back during the 1970s,” said Rabbi Haber. “The notion of yishuv ha’daas is gone, no matter where you are.”
Let us take sports gambling, for instance, and its worldwide impact. Rabbi Haber related how bachurim often bet on spring events like basketball and football games.
By Super Bowl 56, it is common practice to bet five dollars on a team to win – a 50/50 chance. However, the payback is 56 times the original bet; who would not take this opportunity? Yet, the owners of sports betting programs know that their patrons are dumb and will come running back the moment they win and ultimately lose their winnings and probably finish down without even knowing. Still, it is worthwhile for them to take a bet where they give you $300 and take a 51% tax on earnings. Would Walgreens award a customer who purchased a winning toothpaste $300? It is highly doubtful.
In one local high school during the last Super Bowl, yeshivah boys in mesivta, who obviously do not have a steady income, still managed to shell out an astonishing $15,000.
When we are faced with challenges, only a fool allows his mind to believe that he has his yeitzer ha’ra in check. Often the Satan may appear disguised, imagine as a poor person. We must always have a tangible angle to overcome evil. On our own level, we should make a choice to delete an app or social media account that overtakes our time. The best of us may even opt to remove the struggles of a smartphone altogether. These options are not easy whatsoever, but the impact of the Satan is never-ending.
Rabbi Haber delivered a keynote address on this topic to well over 20,000 women this past June at the Prudential Center on behalf of Nekadesh. The inspiration at the Queens event was even more meaningful to those women who also attended in New Jersey. Rabbi Haber implored of the women: “Why are we here? We were fooled.” The rav added that our forefathers never had a yeshivah abandon them, nor did they witness the Jewish nation sojourn in Mitzrayim. Yeshivos obtained this term by being referenced to as a zone or bubble, not a place to gain an education.
We will only be content with a mentality of calmness and tranquility. But nobody explained to us the implications of technology. When the car phone was invented, we were not informed that a simple drive would never again be peaceful. When texting emerged, having our fingers glued to a device was not discussed. How many of us send off a text message and progressively check our device for a reply; are we slaves? The invention of the smartphone did not include knowledge that our heads were now to remain pointed downward. A camera on our phones meant that our eyes would soon lack experience and instead we would become reliant on the phone. Social media has users gripped by jealousy, separation, and even depression. From the first notification on our devices, our hearts began to beat differently, think of your reaction when your phone begins to glow. Silicon Valley remains steadfast on the mission to absorb more of our brain space. Instagram and TikTok are two such examples of applications that simply drain one’s brain. WhatsApp’s creation led to fake news and sent laypeople into chaos amidst the pandemic. We can all recall the messages appealing to viewers to don masks in different quantities and in different mannerisms.
A group of high school girls were asked how much time they believe that they spend on their smartphones. The young women responded in the ranges of two to four hours. Yet when their educator had them retrieve their devices from the classroom windowsill, the phones testified something drastically different. One girl spent 87 hours, another over 70, and yet another 56; there was even one young girl who spent 30 hours just on TikTok – and remember, the devices remain dormant on Shabbos! The girls could not believe what their own phones testified.
Making a change in one’s lifestyle is never easy. But difficult heights have never stopped the Jewish nation. Dating from the time of the Spanish Inquisition to the mothers in the ghettos of Eastern Europe collecting food parcels for their children, and to our grandparents who kept Shabbos in the 1960s and ’70s despite hardships. Ask your grandparents if they could have rationalized working on Shabbos back then; you may be surprised what you hear, as just four percent of Jews were shomer Shabbos in that era and we are their legacy.
Have you ever asked yourself why you need that iPhone? A challenge has yet to stop am Yisrael, so what is stopping us today?
Rabbi Haber reminded the crowd that instead of looking at it like a restriction, one should see the positive in raising a God-fearing family with holy children that seek your attention, not that of the Internet.
Technology should be viewed as the opportunity of our generation, not the evil that lurks. Every parent should question what sets the tone of conversation in their house of talmud Torah.
What changes can we undertake? We have all slipped up and used our devices in wrongful manners. To win the war against technology, we cannot fear making a major move, as it will set us free to hover above our challenges like a soaring eagle.
By Shabsie Saphirstein