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.
This entry was posted in Internet Addiction and tagged against the current, bob dylan, Citi Field, ephraim wachsman, eyes, he not busy bein born is busy dyin, internet addiction, Internet asifa, label lam, orthodox jew, orthodox jew bashing, rabbi, Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman, Rabbi Wachsman, spiritual growth, spirituality, swimming upstream, Torah, ultra-orthodox jew.