MITZVAH OF THE MONTH:
Can you imagine existing without your cellphone, tablet, laptop, or computer? It’s practically inconceivable!
Cell phones are certainly a wonderful boon to our ability to communicate; they allow us to establish immediate contact with those with whom we wish to speak. Parents can check on their children almost instantaneously; children can call their parents to assure them they are fine. If we are running late for a meeting or an appointment, we can call and notify those with whom we are scheduled to meet of our tardiness. Bosses can contact workers, businesspeople can reach clients and customers, family and friends can locate travelers, travelers can call airlines – and the list goes on and on. And, of course, the utility of cell phones in cases of emergency cannot be overestimated.
If you have a smartphone, you know how convenient it can be. You can download apps that allow you to control, guide, direct, or be notified of a myriad of items. You can get directions, control household appliances, listen to music, keep up with the news and weather, follow the stock market, summon a taxi, make airline or hotel or restaurant reservations, take and send photos, even be notified of a minyan – all via your smartphone.
And, of course, tablets have allowed us to bring almost all of the power and capabilities of computers to our fingertips. Tablets and laptops have provided us with incredible mobility; we are no longer tethered to our offices or homes the desktop computers they contain(ed).
When cell phones and smartphones became commodity items, people claimed that they would make communication simpler and business more efficient; life would become easier – all of which has been proven correct. The pundits also maintained that because we would avoid having to wait to find payphones (remember them?), and would also be able to leave messages for those whom we were unable to contact, cell phones would ultimately provide us with more free time. The same claims were made as computers were miniaturized to laptops and then to tablets.
More free time because of a cellphone or tablet? — That has definitely not occurred! If anything, cellphones and tablets have invaded our private space and our personal time. Thanks to cell phones, our business or working lives intrude upon our family time. We feel obligated to check our smartphones every few minutes to determine if we have any messages. Our friends, colleagues, and mere acquaintances feel that they have the right to contact us any time of the day or night. People are so enslaved by their cellphones that they text while driving, endangering not only themselves, but also others on the road. Students surreptitiously check their cell phones during class, friends look at their phones in the midst of conversations, and participants in meetings glance at their smartphones with regularity – all causing them to be distracted from the conversation in which they are supposed to be participating. People are so attached (almost literally) to their cellphones and smartphones that, as a Rabbi, I must now announce before I begin a wedding service or a funeral that everyone should silence his/her phones! In spite of these announcements, I cannot begin to count the number of times I have heard someone’s cell phone ring at a wedding or funeral, or noticed people texting while I am conducting such a service.
Indeed, we have truly become slaves to our cell phones/smartphones, tablets, and laptops, rather than their masters. They have enchained us rather than our controlling them. They have encroached on our family time and personal time; they have rendered us incapable of separating work from home, our public lives from our private lives.
It is time that we rein in our phones and computers and reconquer our free time.
As I have written in years past, a non-profit think-tank called “Reboot” has organized a “National Day of Unplugging” on which people who are constantly “plugged in” are asked to “unplug.” Reboot, which reimagines ways that Judaism can be revitalized, deliberately chose Shabbat as the day on which we should disconnect our cellphones, smartphones, tablets, laptops, and computers, and reconnect with the people who are important to us, with the synagogue, with Judaism, and with God. This “National Day of Unplugging” will occur on Shabbat, March 4-5, 2016. I encourage you to participate. In fact, this is our Mitzvah of the Month – to unplug from your electronic communications devices on Shabbat, March 4th-5th and/or one other Shabbat during the month of March.
This is what Reboot and I suggest: When Shabbat begins at 5:33 p.m. on Friday, March 3rd, turn off your cellphone, your smartphone, your tablet, your laptop, and your computer. That means no making or receiving phone calls, no texting, no photographing, no emailing, no reading or posting social media messages (i.e., no Tweeting, no Facebookinging, etc.). It means relating to your family and friends on a personal level, without any distractions. It means enjoying free time without interruption. It means recapturing your own personal time and space without disturbance. It means focusing your energy on the important values in your life. It means freeing yourself from the potential tyranny of technology. It means recapturing your humanness, and not surrendering yourself to machines. It means proclaiming your freedom.
And for us Jews it means reconnecting with God, Judaism, and the synagogue.
You can turn on your phones and computers when Shabbat ends, at 6:33 Saturday evening.
Trust me: as a Shabbat observer who turns off his cellphone and computer every Shabbat, it is a pleasure not to be bombarded by phone calls, text messages, and emails one day a week.
I strongly urge you to participate in the “National Day of Unplugging,” and I encourage you to participate in this Mitzvah of the Month (“MOM”).
One further suggestion: Reboot has created an app called “Friday by Reboot.” I suggest that you download it to your smartphone (the app is free). Every Friday afternoon, the app will tell you what time Shabbat begins, remind you to unplug, and provide you with a spiritually moving story and questions to ponder during Shabbat. The app has received excellent reviews, and can become an enlightening and inspiring part of your week.
Remember: in the Kiddush prayer which we recite on Shabbat and festivals we acknowledge that God gave us the gift of Shabbat and the holidays not only as a reminder of Creation, but also as a celebration of God’s liberating us from enslavement by the Egyptians. Given the fact that Passover, the holiday which celebrates that freedom, falls next month, how appropriate it is for all of us to liberate ourselves from our enslavement to our communication devices by disconnecting ourselves from our cell phones and computers on Shabbat, March 4-5, the “National Day of Unplugging” and beyond.
Written by Rabbi Ronald Androphy