There’s nothing like the panic that sets in when you’ve left your phone at home—it’s almost a paralysis when you realize that you disconnected from the world. It makes you wonder how we children of the 20th century ever made it out alive.
There’s a different kind of annoyance that comes with forgetting your smart watch, or your fitness tracker. Best-case scenario? You don’t get that many steps in and you’re able to kill it after work. Worst-case scenario? Your workouts vanish into the ether, and your stats never get counted. And if they’re not in your data, did they ever even happen? It both matters, and doesn’t, but actually, it does. You want the achievement badge on your account, even though it’s an artificial construct.
This tech-induced amnesia extends to the audacity of not posting photos from your vacation, the game at Gillette, or apple picking. After all, if you don’t share that picture with your friends and followers, what evidence do you have that you even went? If you didn’t curate a story about it, did it even happen? To take this rhetoric to its logical conclusion—if a tree fell in the forest and you didn’t post about it with a cool filter, did it really fall?
It’s uncomfortable to admit that we forget things, but it’s true. We remember a version of the event, or a smell, or a feeling, but once it’s happened, it’s gone forever. Even when we post, or track, our data tells one version of the story in two dimensions. There’s not a lot of depth to it; it’s there, and then gone, quicker than you expect. All that’s left is a Facebook memory.
In our tradition we fight that trend, sort of. If nothing else, Judaism allows us to hold the past in the present, retelling, rereading and reliving, day after day, year after year. The cycle of everything affirms everything, whether or not it actually happened.
Case in point: the Torah. We’ve read it aloud for thousands of years, and while it’s probably not history, it’s something. We can read it, learn it and grapple with it for our whole lives, and as Ben Bag Bag said in Pirke Avot 5:21: “Turn it over, and again turn it over, for all is therein. And look into it; And become gray and old therein; And do not move away from it, for you have no better portion than it.”
Yes, the Torah, and if we extend it, the study and practice of Judaism, is rich and fulfilling. We will continue to find meaning in it, be inspired by it and live ethically by following its guidance. We could, and do, spend a lifetime immersed in it and never come near a complete understanding of its richness.
But at the same time, it’s possible to admit that some of the foundation stones of this Jewish structure were built on quicksand. The evidence of just about everything before mid-Prophets is pretty thin, and even then we’re talking about a lot of questionable details from the rest of the Bible. But when do we start believing with conviction that certain parts of our history actually happened? And what do we do when the foundation stones are gone? I think we just do this.
This is not me channeling an Ecclesiastical lament that everything is futile. Actually, it’s the opposite; there is an incredible amount of weight that we should place on what we are currently and actually doing, for it’s the only thing we can verifiably control, know and create.
There is nothing that will ever be as vibrant as what you are doing right now, or do next. Your love for Israel cannot be kept burning by simply looking at old pictures—you need to go again. The magic of hearing the Ten Commandments read from the Torah is at its most potent when you are hearing it again, not remembering how you felt once when you heard it. And the memory of your childhood seders and their flavors must be nourished by the ones you will prepare this spring.
Bottom line? More doing, less remembering. After all, everything that we just did, or once remembered, slips into legend, for nothing lasts forever.
In truth, nothing lasts at all.
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