Cellphones are Fantastic – For 6 days
I did a lot of traveling over summer – I was in Israel, Vietnam, Thailand, Sicily and Southern Italy. It was incredibly helpful and convenient to my phone with me. I was able to be in contact with the other people in the group with whom I was traveling; I was able to be in contact with my family, and the office. I was able to book hotels and confirm airlines and speak to my family and organize and schedule future trips and lectures all with and tiny handheld device I am able to speak with my children and grandchildren in Israel in a “face to face” video call. I have been able to study with people, answer questions and look up information. It is really an amazing thing and I appreciate how incredible is this technology.
When I arrive home from a trip and am able to celebrate Shabbat with my family, it is then that I truly appreciate not having my cellphone available. Aside from the joy of spending 24 hours with my family, Shabbat also gave me an opportunity for a family, and life immersion opportunity. For an entire day, our lives were uninterrupted by phone calls, by emails, by news reports, Twitter feeds, texts and all the other informational inputs and feeds of the week days.
The Talmud relates Shabbat to shalom, peace, and the Hebrew greeting for Shabbat is “Shabbat Shalom.”. One explanation for this peace, is the peace of mind that we can experience by not having continuous input. In the words of an article I saw in Wired magazine, “what we all need is a data Sabbath.” Some people wake up to the radio, or to a playlist, then continue with their waterproof MP3 players in the shower. (I have stayed at hotels where they have televisions built into the bathtubs and showers.) You might then get into your car and of course listen to your music playlist, or 24 hour news on satellite radio, get out of the car, ride up in the elevator where, of course, CNN is playing on the monitor. In the subway, you can actually (unfortunately) hear the rap “music” from a guy sitting 25 feet away with tiny ear bud headphones. People look at their phones and TVs over dinner, and relax with their computers or phones after dinner, and possibly fall asleep while watching Netflix or Hulu. When do we actually have time to think and to actually have some level of peace and quiet? I think the answer to that is Shabbos. An amazing, beautiful time, introduced in the Torah thousands of years before Iphones.
How much more necessary is Shabbat nowadays than in ancient times. At the table, in the synagogue, in the living room there are only un-amplified, un-modulated, natural human speaking and singing voices. We actually WALK to the synagogue and see things that we miss when driving. We don’t worry about traffic or parking or EZpass. We walk lightly, unencumbered by a wallet, smartphone, Ipad, briefcase, backpack, credit card etc. etc. etc.
I remember hearing from Rabbi Lopez-Cardoza, that he is certain that had the telephone existed at the time of the Talmud, the Rabbis would have created a blessing to say on turning off the phone before Shabbat. The family would have stood around with their phones, fingers on the power switch, and say “Blessed are you our G-d, King of the Universe who has given us the peace and quiet of the Shabbat.”