Divrei Torah

PARSHAS R'EI 5779

In the beginning of this week’s Parsha we read, “See, I am giving before you this day a blessing and a curse.” The Torah proceeds to tell us that the Bracha  will be if we listen to the commandments of G-d, while the curse will be if we don’t listen to the commandments of G-d. That means that we have the ability to produce a bracha and we have the ability to, G-d forbid” produce a curse. Since the words of Bracha and curse are placed in the same verse, perhaps we can interpret this to mean that we can produce a bracha or curse from the same situation, depending upon what we do, how we do it and what we are using.

Technology can be used as both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, technology can be used to produce, preserve and improve life. Babies born prematurely can develop into normal children, grow to be adults and lead productive lives, whereas before modern times it was an almost unheard of happening. Illnesses that were fatal are now curable. On the other hand, technology can also be used to end, shorten or ruin a life. Violent crime – murder – has been around since Cain and Abel. Yishmael and Eisav were and still are experts at it. The Jewish people suffered through the Crusades and the Chmielnicki pogroms. But, as bad as those were, they could have been much worse. One factor that prevented worse pogroms is that all killing had to be done by hand and the hand gets tired after a while. Nowadays, with modern means, mass killing can be accomplished without much effort. That, in part, assisted Hitler. He had more modern technology for killing than his predecessors. Now, 70 years later, it is much more frightening.

There are other aspects of technology that can also be easily turned into a curse – Facebook. It is difficult to understand why every time a person sneezes, that person has to let the entire world know about it. There are those who are constantly on Facebook and posting every item about their lives. There are people who have been ruined by Facebook. Many teenagers – or even adults - don’t realize that what they post on facebook can come back to haunt them when they are hunting for jobs, marriage partners, etc. My father likes to say that a closed mouth gathers no feet. That is a good synopsis of Facebook. If one studies the book Chafetz Chaim – the laws of Lashon Hara and talebearing – one would immediately come to the realization that almost every time one is on Facebook or twitter, one probably transgresses several Torah prohibitions of slander, gossip, talebearing, etc.

Another item that is both a bracha and a curse is the cell phone. Cell phones can be used as a bracha. There might be an emergency . . . somebody needs directions while driving . . . somebody has a halachik question that requires immediate attention. On the other hand, there are also some uses of cell phones that go beyond acceptable. Why must ring tones be set for levels that everybody within a mile can hear the phone ring – especially during davening, wedding ceremonies and funerals? What is wrong with having the phone on “vibrate”. The phone call is for me, not for the person standing on the other side of the room. 

Another unacceptable practice of cell phones: If I am talking to you and my cell phone rings, why is the call on the cell phone more important than you? Granted, one might be expecting an important call, but perhaps one should make note of that to the person with whom one is having the conversation before rudely interrupting.

Another unacceptable practice of cell phones:  Why must cell phones be left on during davening, funerals and weddings and why must they be answered during those occasions? Davening is a time for communicating with G-d. Does business – personal or livelihood - take precedence over that? Is it truly impossible to be out of communication with human beings for thirty minutes?

Another unfortunate practice with cell phones: If the checker behind the counter at a grocery store is taking care of me, ringing up my groceries and sometimes even talking to me, how can I talk on a cell phone in the middle of all of that? Isn’t that rude? That is another case where I have transformed the cell phone from a blessing to a curse.

A terrible consequence of our time is teenagers who can’t keep their hands off of their cellphones. There is a problem with teens from Shomer Shabbos homes texting on Shabbos. The cellphone has become an addiction – almost as bad as alcohol. The common denominators between them are that neither is necessary in shul and they can both destroy a good spiritual get together.

There is however, a positive aspect to cellphones. Somebody in Israel purchased a cellphone. When this customer received his first bill, he saw that it was somewhere in the stratosphere. At first, he had difficulty understanding the unusually high bill – several hundred dollars. Then, it hit him. He was in Israel visiting Meah Shearim and purchased his phone there. Apparently, along with the phones purchased in Meah Shearim comes a high fee for Shabbos usage – several dollars per minute. He was not Shomer Shabbos and he had used his phone on Shabbos. After the bill, he stopped using his phone on Shabbos. We have to pray that he does not switch telephone plans. 

Money is another example of an item that can be used as a blessing or a curse. When used properly – to give tzedaka to the shul for example - it is a blessing. When used improperly – to yield power for example - it is a curse.

G-d has given us a body whose functioning is nothing short of a miracle. We even have the bracha of “Asher Yatzar” to remember this idea. G-d has given us eyes, ears, a mouth, hands and feet. We can use them for a bracha – for G-dly purposes – or we can use them for a curse – reading or looking at material at which we should not be looking; listening to words to which we should not be listening; saying words that we should be saying.

There are numerous examples that can be discussed. The Torah teaches us, “See”. We must see all that G-d has given us and use it in a manner that is befitting for G-d’s world. G-d willing, then we will see the fulfillment of the brachos that G-d has promised us in the Torah and through His prophets.