You might be familiar with the biblical story of the prophet Elijah on Mount Chorev, which comes from I Kings, chapter 19. Up on the mountain, seeking refuge from furious Queen Jezebel after his battle on Mount Carmel with the priests of the Baal, Elijah encounters God. Expecting God to arrive with great clamor and sensationalism, Elijah hears God not in a great wind that passes by, not in a tremendous earthquake that shakes the mountain, and also not in a great fire that rages around him. No, it is only afterwards that Eljah hears God in a “kol dmamah dakah,” a “still, small voice” that Elijah heard after the passing of the wind, earthquake, and fire. Only by experiencing silence was Elijah able to hear what he was meant to… what he wanted to.
Silence was once a lot more available to us. When I was a kid, I used to go with my dad to work on weekends and romp around the hallways, kicking soccer balls and watching movies, eating snacks and rummaging around rooms with old computer parts and telephones. This was back when it cost money to call Worcester on the phone (remember this service?), DVDs weren’t invented yet, no one had cell phones, and I used to spend hours writing letters to camp friends. One day my dad put me on a computer with the “internet” on it. What did I know? I thought it was neat and spent the better part of a Sunday afternoon checking out the pages of the Red Sox and assorted other sports teams.
Humankind will never again experience life the way I knew it and the small things like the arrival of a letter, the long-distance telephone call, or the time that would elapse between the taking of a picture and the development of the film. Fifteen years have changed life so completely that it’s hard to remember how things used to be. I remember my first email address and first cell phone (1996), my first Instant Message (1999) the first email attachment I ever sent (2000- I was a slow learner), my first DVD player (2001 and it cost $200), my first social media experiment with Friendster (2006) and switch to Facebook (2008), and recently, my first tweet (2010), which for those of you who are curious, was about a Ryan Kalish home run in Yankee Stadium.
The new world and its era of instantaneous information has been a boon for me. I love facts, data, figures, minutiae about people and places, and working quickly, and with the advent of ever-evolving technologies, I have my finger on the pulse of the world. I can sit on my couch and watch my Facebook friends’ updates in real time, read through dozens of articles on twitter from people and organizations I follow, and manage both my personal and work-related endeavors on my TweetDeck, all while managing multiple e-mail accounts, three jobs, my studies, three kids, and my wife. All I need is a good wireless router.
The biggest challenge that comes along with the ultra-connectedness of our lives to the networked global community isn’t complicated, nor is it surprising- once you are so connected, how can you ever unplug? From a Jewish perspective, people choose to unplug in various ways. Some do not post to Facebook or Twitter on Shabbat, nor do they check their e-mail. Others send personal emails but not work-related e-mails. Talk about a “selective covenant”! It is harder and harder to go completely off the grid these days.
All of this leads me to the question of my Rosh HaShanah resolution. What am I going to try to do this year? In the short term I am going to try to resist the urge to break down and get a BlackBerry, although it’s probably only a matter of time before I get one. For an achievable, measurable goal, however, I will try to spend a little less time being so tuned in to the world. If anything, these days the noise and chatter from the online universe can be deafening- finding the quietude, the privacy, and the comfort of people and places like my family and my home should provide me with some peace and comfort. Elijah was able to hear the kol dmamah dakah only after the great noise had passed and he was attuned to the silence. It is my hope to find those moments more often amidst the overwhelming volume of information that is the world we live in.
Shana Tovah U’Metukah.