Electronic Shackles: Redemption on Shabbat and Pesach 

Electronic Shackles:
Redemption on Shabbat and Pesach

by Rabbi Rick Brody

This cartoon showed up in my Facebook feed today:

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Not only is it hilarious, but it’s also very timely at this moment in the rhythm of the Jewish seasons. It reminds us of the ways we remain enslaved to technology and in need of the annual festival of liberation that comes each spring as well as a weekly reprieve from the distracting, overstimulating workweek.

The cartoon captures the value of having a regular day to unplug. The Rabbis described Shabbat (a day that has always been an opportunity to step out of our workday routines and away from our reliance on the engines of industry–and in more recent history for abstaining specifically from using electronic devices) as me’ein olam haba, a “taste of the world to come.”

While I don’t subscribe to a belief in the image portrayed in this cartoon for whatever might “come next” and am much more interested in promoting the idea of “olam haba” as a shift in consciousness, relationships, and civil order attainable in our lifetime, the idea still stands: If our experiences of eternity involve only those parts of reality that truly matter; and the various vessels of our own creation—which might both help and hinder our journey towards that encounter with eternity—are ultimately not actually part of that ultimate reality, then ought we not train ourselves to function happily and freely without them right now?

The Jewish approach to answering that question is a “six-7ths” compromise: We will engage these devices, tools, and vessels during the 6 days of creation but will abstain from them once a week as a taste of a different way of living. And—since Shabbat is not only a memory of the completion of Creation but also of the Exodus from Egypt—we will also find this abstaining to be liberating. How enslaved the poor folks in the cartoon have been—and will remain eternally–because of their inability to function without their electronic shackles.

Right now are the intermediate days of Pesach, chol hamo’ed, non-holy days sandwiched within sacred time. They are like sweet charoset (and a little bit of maror, a reminder of the bitterness of oppression) between two pieces of matzah, the humble, flat bread of our liberation that defines and bookends this holy time. As we enjoy their sweetness—ideally intimately connected to springtime!—may we find a good balance between using personal devices for redemptive purposes and seeing the larger prize of liberation that involves more than those instruments of communication, entertainment, and data acquisition. May we communicate directly with those in our midst; may we soak up the warming rays of sunshine; may we engage more than our thumbs to walk, run, and play in outdoor leisure; and may we move from being atomized, silent acquirers of information to interactive, conversant knowers of and participants in the real-time goodness of physical companionship and quality time with those we love.

I composed most of this reflection on a personal “handheld” electronic device, using my thumbs—as well as my eyes and cognitive faculties. I completed it on a “laptop” device, using a few other fingers. But now I’m going to live it by walking away from these external instruments and focusing on the most important device of all—my body as a whole, with its multiple faculties of emotional, cognitive, kinesthetic, and other ways of knowing and experiencing the blessed reality it inhabits—which will interact fully with my children and my environment, unshackled by electronic tools. Moadim l’simchah—may these be special seasonal days for joy!


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