Asifa Impression #3: The Reason for the Ridicule

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A man went tubing up the Delaware River with a group. What a relaxing experience it was! Feet dangling over the sides of the inflated rubber tube, rhythmic sounds of the river… It was so relaxing that he closed his eyes and dozed off…. When he opened them he realized he was in trouble… big trouble…

After writing about the universal appeal of the Internet Asifa and the widespread negative reaction of much of the media – including downplaying the content and/or using the event to launch into Orthodox Jew-bashing – the question is: Why the attempt to blunt the message?

I’ll answer that from a story I heard from my good friend, Rabbi Label Lam.

A man went tubing up the Delaware River with a group. What a relaxing experience it was! Feet dangling over the sides of the inflated rubber tube, rhythmic sounds of the river, an occasional splash of cool water as he gently paddled…. It was so relaxing. In fact, at one point he decided to just close his eyes for a few moments and take in the wonderful rays of the sun.

This is the life, he thought to himself. No worries. No cares. Just relaxing.

It was so relaxing that a few moments turned into a few minutes… which turned into a few extra minutes… which turned into…. Oh my God! He opened his eyes and no one was around. They were way upstream, and he was drifting downstream. In fact, what was that sound? He was heading toward a waterfall!

That is life, Rabbi Lam explains. Growth – psychological, physical and especially spiritual – requires work. Going against a current. Exerting oneself. Sometimes more, sometimes less – but exerting oneself. Some people think they are living the life. They don’t need to work too hard. Take in the rays and relax like me, they tell people.

There’s a place for relaxation, of course, but when it becomes a way of life it is a sign that the person is dying spiritually. He not a-busy bein’ born is a-busy dyin’, a popular sixties song lyric went. The person who goes with the flow, doesn’t try too hard, may seem happy but if he doesn’t wake up soon he will find himself heading downstream fast.

Resisting the currents that drag us downstream is not just a good idea but a biblical commandment. The Torah (Numbers 15:39) says, “Don’t follow after your eyes….” The word for “follow” is better translated as “tour after.” The eyes can lead you on a tour. You go to one place… and that leads you to another place… which leads you to another place… and so on.

There are a lot of wonderful things to see in life. And we were given eyes to see them. But there are also a lot of things to avoid seeing in life. We were given eyelids to not see them. We were given minds to turn our heads away. There is a lot of “eye candy” out there. Like real candy, it’s unhealthy and even addicting. It can lead us on a tour from one piece of junk food to the next.

Not touring after your eyes is not only a biblical commandment, but a good idea. It’s a great idea, in fact. A person can grow psychologically and spiritually just by guarding his or her eyes.

People are not perfect. Including people in the Torah observant community. But, as we see it, the Torah is. And it tells us to resist the current, to not go on a tour of the eyes.

It’s a free country. If a person doesn’t want to join us, that is his or her prerogative. But when we get together in an unprecedented event designed to highlight the spiritual and physical pitfalls of unrestricted internet use; an event designed to make us aware of them and give us both the tools to counteract them; an event ultimately designed to give us the much needed encouragement to swim upstream and go against the flow – can you at least give us credit for trying?! Or, if not, at least stay neutral?!

Ok, you don’t want to join us. Ok, you don’t like our black hats. Ok, you don’t like that our women cover their hair and dress modestly. But can you at least give us the courtesy of not ridiculing us for trying to counteract a societal and global current that most people know, in their hearts at least, has the potential for unprecedented destruction of families and individuals?

Yes, I believe much of the ridicule in the press about the Asifa stems from a societal zeitgeist that is the spiritual equivalent of the guy relaxing in his tube, blissfully unaware that he is drifting downstream. The Internet Asifa was the equivalent of someone shouting, “Wake up!” It disturbed him. How dare somebody try to wake him or even suggest that he needs to be awakened!

He is not fighting the current. That is why he is bothered by others who are. It reminds him that life is not 70 years of relaxation, of spiritual atrophy and deterioration. There is a lot of spiritual work that needs to be done. Guarding one’s eyes is not the only thing, but it is a big thing, and the internet makes it an even bigger thing.

I applaud the Catholic commentator who could not believe the negative reporting on the event. We should be praising our Orthodox Jewish friends for having the guts to make a statement, he said.

The Asifa was intended as a wake-up call for Torah observant Jewry. If others heard the call and woke up from it, all the more power to them. But, apparently, it also woke up some who did not want to be reminded that they are spiritually asleep, that they are drifting downstream and blissfully unaware. They were insulted that they were reminded that their claim to the moral high ground is hollow if they are not in this battle spiritually and morally.

That is the message behind their ridicule.

4 thoughts on “Asifa Impression #3: The Reason for the Ridicule

    Yossi said:
    June 1, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    ” But, apparently, it also woke up some who did not want to be reminded that they are spiritually asleep, that they are drifting downstream and blissfully unaware. They were insulted that they were reminded that their claim to the moral high ground is hollow if they are not in this battle spiritually and morally.”

    Very true, these words however apply first and foremost to us Yidden.

      Yaakov Astor responded:
      June 6, 2012 at 10:52 am

      The Asifa was Yiddishkeit, not Yidden; it was about Yidden living up to Yiddishkeit. The first order of the day was to establish that Yiddishkeit is not compatible with unrestricted internet. It’s not compatible with secular standards. It was a call to arms that all Yidden who value their neshamos. Yes, people fall on the battlefield. But at least realize that there is a battle. That’s the first step. And as far as I can tell no other group has made such a loud and unified declaration about the dangers of the internet.

      The point was not to win the moral high ground, but that is what was achieved, imo. A person can point to the failed and fallen soldiers in this battle, to the faults of individuals. But it was not about individuals; it was about the standards – setting them and making people aware of them. Yes, sadly, individuals have to fall in line (or risk falling by the wayside). But this was about drawing the line (as Rabbi Wachsman said). Those who fail to draw the line – and certainly those who ridicule the drawing of the line – cannot claim the moral high ground. They are like civilians back home, sitting out the battle. Ok, they don’t want to fight. But at least not ridicule the soldiers who are and the group that has made a call to arms.

    Barry Graham said:
    June 10, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    My main disappointment was the fact that during the Yiddish parts, there were no subtitles. Had I been lucky enough to get a seat in the main stadium, or watched it 200 miles away in my shul, I would have been treated to subtitles. It was frustrating to see the subtitles in the background on the large screen in the tennis stadium were I had to sit, because it meant that clearly someone had forgotten to send a feed with subtitles to the tennis stadium, even though they were sent to remote locations. I found the control room and asked whether it was possible to get the subtitles sent over. They were very apologetic but said that they could not do it, and would have done if they could. Had I known that I wasn’t going to be able to understand most of the evening, I would have brought something to read.

    Also an event focussing on chinuch and middot should have finished on time.

    Nevertheless it was worth going just to see Rabbi Wachsmann in action. I have met him personally and he is truly one of today’s greatest leaders.

    Barry Graham said:
    July 1, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    Also while I agree that the internet can be dangerous, and much evil exists within, I don’t believe that the internet itself is evil. The internet also has benefits, such as

    • Tehillim lists
    • Tzedaka is often given through the internet and can reach more people
    • Helping people to get jobs (that’s how I got mine)
    • Many of our jobs are internet related
    • Shiurim
    • A person that bullied me at school contacted me through a social networking site to say sorry after 40 years, making both of us feel much better

    The Asifa itself could not have taken place without the assistance of the internet, in terms of streaming, and secure booking of tickets. There would never have been more than 50000 participants without the help of the Internet. OK so you could argue that without the internet it would not have been necessary, but a gathering to hear Chizuk from our gedolim is needed for other things, not just the internet.

    Also the same dangers that come from the internet has can also come from other common activities such as:

    • Theme Parks.
    • Airplanes (for example the movies)
    • Walking (or taking subway) in New York.
    • Mixed-gender kiddushes
    • Secular Books
    • Non-Jewish Magazines

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