02 Oct Shabbat Shuva- The Most Urgent Teshuva That We Need Today
During this period of the Aseret Yemeh Teshuba – the Ten Days of Repentance, from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur – the Yeser Ha’ra (evil inclination) is gong to get clever. In a desperate attempt to sabotage our efforts to perform the kind of Teshuba we really need to perform, it will lure us to make worthwhile but relatively trivial changes in our behavior. This way, we will feel good about ourselves, content that we’ve made some progress – when in truth we’ve skirted the main issue, we’ve avoided the primary problem that we need to address.
In today’s age and age, no issue must be addressed more urgently than the issue of screens, what our devices are doing to our lives. Teshuba in our generation does not begin with matters such as eating Yashan bread and being more stringent with Bishul Yisrael. These are worthwhile practices, but this must not be our priority. There is no question that the most urgent Teshuba that we need today relates to the problems caused by our addiction to our screens.
Many of my colleagues believe that because of the grave dangers posed by screens, we should simply ban them, and not use them at all. I do not share this view. There is so much benefit that can be gained from technology; I know students who have studied the entire Talmud with their devices, and I know students who have received Semicha (ordination) using their devices. Like cars, our devices can be immensely useful and valuable, but can also be extremely dangerous if they are not used properly. My view, therefore, is that devices, like cars, may be used, but only in a safe, responsible manner, to help ensure that they are an asset and not a liability.
I have compiled a list of seven different dangers posed by screens. Our Teshuba, I strongly believe, must begin by going through these seven dangers and firmly resolving to use our devices in a way that steers clear of all these dangers:
1) Most obviously, screens give us easy and constant access to images and videos that are strictly forbidden to be viewed. Looking at inappropriate material is forbidden by Torah law (“Ve’lo Taturu Ahareh Lebabchem Ve’ahareh Enechem” – Bamidbar 15:39). And scientists have found that viewing such material triggers the same chemical process in the brain as that triggered by drug use – which means that it is addictive. This is a grave spiritual danger. Using an unfiltered device is unacceptable, and those who find themselves addicted to such behavior should, as part of their Teshuba, consult with professionals, or seek the help of guardyoureyes.com, a very valuable online platform dedicated to helping people struggling with addiction to inappropriate online content.
2) Screens consume a great deal of time. We are not brought into this world to play games, to watch videos, or to engage in mindless chatting. Hazzan Moshe Habousha, who for many years led the services in Hacham Ovadia Yosef’s Minyan, said that Hacham Ovadia would break down on Yom Kippur when he recited the words, “Bitalnu Talmud Toratecha” – “We neglected the study of Your Torah.” Nobody was more dedicated to the study of Torah of Hacham Ovadia. Yet, even he felt that he did not utilize all his time for study as he should have. Today, when we have so many Torah resources so easily accessible, there is no excuse for wasting time – and certainly not for wasting the amount of time that so many people waste on their devices.
3) Screens make it very difficult to concentrate. If we have to interrupt what we’re doing every time we get a message or notification, we cannot focus. In some kollels, the students keep their phones on “airplane mode” throughout the study session in order to avoid distraction. This is one strategy we can employ to ensure that we can achieve all we are capable of achieving without being constantly distracted by our devices.
4) Screens can wreak havoc on family life. A woman was telling me about her struggles in marriage, and mentioned that she has to compete with another party for her husband’s attention and affection. I assumed the worst – that there was a forbidden relationship – until she explained that the “other party” was her husband’s iPad. This problem afflicts many marriages. And many families eat together without talking to one another, because they’re all on their screens. We must not allow this to happen.
5) Screens are leading to the constant defilement of the Kedusha of the synagogue. People wonder why their prayers aren’t answered – even though they spend parts of the prayer service on Google. When the Torah is being read, it is like we are standing at Mount Sinai hearing G-d pronounce the Ten Commandments. Would any of us imagine looking at our phones at that moment? We shouldn’t be looking at our phones in the synagogue, either.
6) Our devices are making us shallow and empty. When we spend so much time looking at and sharing nonsense, we turn ourselves into clowns, instead of serious, mindful, conscientious people. How can we expect to live lives of depth, of meaning, of wisdom, of sophistication, when we indulge in utter nonsense? Of course, we are allowed to enjoy some laughs and amusement from time to time, but life is meant to be serious, not silly.
7) Screens are causing many people to waste huge amounts of money. The convenience of online shopping makes it too easy and tempting to buy and buy and buy. People shop online practically every day, purchasing products that they don’t need. There is nothing wrong with shopping, even purchasing luxury items that enhance our lives, but shopping as a hobby is vain and wasteful.
These areas, I believe, are where we need to focus our Teshuba during this critical time of year. We must not allow our Yeser Ha’ra to distract us by directing our attention onto less vital matters. Screens are the great challenge of our generation – and the Aseret Yemeh Teshuba is when we are to confront this challenge head-on, and do everything we can to protect ourselves and our families from the very real dangers that they pose.