- Posted by Jen Gubitz
- On March 10, 2018
- 0 Comments
Sparkling, shimmering, gleaming and glistening, they were drawn towards its vibrance. And so they gathered together and bowed down to worship the golden hued metal, their new God fashioned from all that was precious to them. Sparkling, shimmering, gleaming and glistening, they gathered together and bowed down to worship their new God… a golden iPhone 8. Rose gold actually and the latest in ancient Apple style. (Android users, stay with me.)
This image is yielded from last week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa, and though it was a golden calf and not a smart phone, the theme rings true. While the Israelites are waiting for Moses to come down the mountain, they worry that he’s just not coming back. So they demand of Aaron to fashion them a new God to worship, ripping off their earrings and producing all of their precious metal possessions from which Aaron produces a new shinier God-model upgrade to be the object of their affection.
In a different creative moment in this week’s double Torah portion Vayakhel-Pekudei, the Israelites receive instructions to build the Tabernacle, known in Hebrew as the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary for God that they will carry with them throughout their desert journey.
They are instructed to bring forth their most precious and beloved possessions – gold, silver, copper, dolphin skins, oils and woods (an ancient bespoke precursor to Etsy). Bezalel and Oholiab, the Steve Jobs and Frank Lloyd Wright of their time, fashion expertly these raw materials into a sacred space where the community can come together to commune with one another and with the Divine.
These two moments of creation – the creation of the Golden Calf and the creation of the Mishkan Tabernacle – each begin with the fashioning of metal. The first yields a new thing, a new object to worship. The second yields a new thing, a new sacred space for worship, for connection and conversation and communal gathering.
A number of things happen between these two critical creative events, not the least of which is an episode of God’s fury, Moses smashing the 2 tablets containing the Commandments, and an explanation of the three Festival Holidays of Sukkot, Shavuot and Passover. But what truly sets them apart and makes their outcome distinct from one another is found at the beginning of this week’s portion.
שֵׁ֣שֶׁת יָמִים֮ תֵּעָשֶׂ֣ה מְלָאכָה֒ וּבַיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗י יִהְיֶ֨ה לָכֶ֥ם קֹ֛דֶשׁ שַׁבַּ֥ת שַׁבָּת֖וֹן לַיהוָ֑ה
Exodus 35:2 reads: “On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Divine.”
We are reminded in this text again of Shabbat, that sacred pause experienced since the beginning of time, that sacred pause that brings us together tonight and connects the Jewish people around the world each week. Shabbat is THE ultimate tabernacle, the ultimate sacred space for gathering, even as Jewish people journey everywhere throughout the world. Shabbat elevates our souls, fills our stomachs, helps us make new friends, and connects us with that which is greater than us.
There is, however, one additional line of note in the Exodus text.
“On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a sabbath of complete rest, holy to Adonai….
כָּל־הָעֹשֶׂ֥ה ב֛וֹ מְלָאכָ֖ה יוּמָֽת׃
[AND] whoever does any work on [Shabbat] shall be put to death.
Perhaps you didn’t expect that not so subtle threat to your life for not observing Shabbat. But what does it mean that Shabbat, the act of sacred pausing, is so critical to our survival?
There are a few ways this could go. Option 1: With so many articles in every news outlet about how technology and our smartphones are ruining everything, most especially our health, it is clear to us that the Golden iPhone and all the technologies we worship do cause us harm. I love my iPhone but I’m pretty sure my posture, attention span, relationships and professional life suffer because of my excessive use of technology. My regular need for dopamine bursts is not life affirming; I often have bouts of iPhone thumb; swiping right or left has caused me great disappointment at various points in my life; and when the internet is down or WIFI signal is lost, I feel lost. And as an incredibly important aside, there is no question that technology use while driving or biking can truly bring great harm to others.
And then there is Option 2: With many of us living far away from family or friends, and loneliness becoming a major public health crises, technology can help bring us together. It can be that sacred “connection” that shortens even the greatest of distances. It can help us be citizens of the world, allowing us to know key events and discourse in real time. It can help us understand those who are not like us, whose values or beliefs differ. It can bringing us closer to those who seem as if a world apart, helping us build empathy, connection and understanding. It can help someone sick at home or living away from Jewish community Livestream Shabbat services, access learning and information. This sort of technology usage can be life enriching.
But Shabbat – our most sacred pause – and the best technology we’ve ever had – offers us a blueprint for Option #3. The national organization Reboot has declared this Shabbat – National Day of Unplugging. And while the Torah definitely offers a solid explanation, Reboot clarifies for us ten principles for observing Shabbat in their Shabbat Manifesto: (And I wonder if you do any of them already?)
Their #1 principle is also to avoid technology and I get why it has to be first. With our phones in our palm, it makes it hard for us to shake hands with our neighbor or connect face to face with loved ones. With our phones in our hands, it shifts our focus to someone outside of the room, rather than those sitting right next to us. With phones in our hands, it shifts attention to the dopamine of twitter updates, a distraction from the heart swell of your voices singing or truly fantastic sermons…
10. Give back.
9. Find Silence.
8. Eat Bread.
7. Drink Wine.
6. Light Candles
5. Avoid Commerce
4. Get Outside.
3 Nurture Your Health
2. Connect with Loved Ones
1. Avoid Technology
I wanted to find some way to give us a casual ending. I wanted to say that it’s totally cool to use our phones at every moment of the day, and even or especially on Shabbat. Because “hey, it’s the weekend… gotta make plans, gotta get places, got people to see…” And I think I wanted that ending because I cannot imagine putting down my phone. And that truth is very much the problem that prevents me and I’d guess a good number of us from being transformed from a group of individuals who worship a golden Android (stay with me Apple users), a sacred cow that can get us nowhere, to becoming a people who use technology and innovation to create a sacred space – a Mishkan – for community, gathering and connection.
So that organization, Reboot, gave us some cell phone sleeping bags for the long arduous journey in the desert that it may feel like to be separated from our idols and to help us restore the sacred pause that enables us to become creators once more after Shabbat has ended.
Figure out what a sacred pause is for you. Practice it. Connect in real time, not FaceTime. And since sacred pausing takes practice, there’s good news. You can keep trying. Shabbat happens next week, and the week after that and the week after that, too.