Please turn off your phone while reading this!

Please turn off your phone while reading this!

By Harav Y. Reuven Rubin Shlita

 

When I was a bochur learning in Eretz Yisroel no one had a phone at home. If you wanted to call to America you would book a time at the Post Office and then stand on line till it was your turn. After a long series of clicks and sputters, one could faintly hear the distant trill of the phone ringing in far off New York. Then the shouting would commence, “Hello?  Hello? It’s me! Who? Me, your son. Hello?”  If the wind was blowing in the right direction and Mom’s phone was not too ancient, you would hear the faint sounds of home.  This is what passed for technology and no one thought it insufficient. In truth it was a marvel the technology worked at all. I remember waiting to become a choson for a Mazel Tov telegram from my Rav. It came just in time for the vort and everyone was surprised it arrived at all.

Well, today is another time and place. Phones slip into the pocket without a thought, and we can contact one another instantly wherever we are. It was not that long ago when having a mobile phone was so unique it was the toy of the very rich or those earnest few in emergency services. Now everyone seems to be tethered to some sort of plastic object and our thumbs have become the most important feature of our hands. Yes, the phone has certainly arrived and is indisputably a lifeline for modern living.

 

We owe it to our children, to the thousands of young marrieds of our wonderful community, and most of all, to ourselves, to release our souls from this new Yetzer Hora.”

 

Sadly though, as with all great advances, this comes with huge dangers, and as these gizmos become more and more sophisticated, the technology changes quicker than we can manage.

The purveyors of these ‘must have’ instruments are clever in their hype; they now class phones as being “smart” and those without one are led to feel that perhaps they’re lacking.

The stark truth is that unfettered use of mobile phones can be inimical to our relationships, our Torah lifestyle, and our own sense of well-being. Who hasn’t noticed that at simchos there can be whole tables of guests sitting together, yet each individual is glued to his little screen, poking his fingers frantically whilst the host sees his expensive meal going to waste. How often is the silence of a Shemonah Esrei disturbed by some ludicrous ringtone?  How about the nudging of neighbours in the middle of a shiur to draw attention to the latest ‘WhatsApp” notice? There is a whole substrata of conversation going on with individuals and their phones, private and exclusionary. People come to shul or a simcha and don’t communicate with those around them; it’s all about the world in their hands.

Not only are levayas interrupted by the regular pings announcing the arrival of yet another useless email, but I have witnessed sweet Yidden reading the said emails in the middle of the hespedim.

I won’t belabour the point; anyone with open eyes and a sensitive heart will know exactly the message. These phones have taken over much of so many lives; too often Yidden are living in the world of WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook together with whatever else awaits us around the bend.

What was meant to be a convenience has become a lifestyle, one that can be detrimental to the neshoma.

The problem with phones is not merely about internet usage for kosher and practical purposes; it’s about disenfranchising ourselves from others. Our young families have seen members become addicted to games, gambling, dangerous chatter, and much more. As a Rov I have shared more than a few hours hearing how phones have taken over families to the point that spouses no longer talk to one another; instead they sit across from each other at meals, eyes focused on the phone screen. Children try talking to Tatty all the while knowing that his eyes are straying to the phone screen, monitoring its activity.

There is another point to be made: the fact that this piece of plastic lays in one’s pocket, beckoning its owner like some needy soul seeking attention, distracts the owner, stealing any real sense of focus. People take out the phone for no reason, just to check if World War Three didn’t start without him knowing. It’s crazy; we don’t talk to others anymore; we walk in the street like zombies, in the thrall of small screens. Many seem to be living in a parallel universe, not seeing or feeling for those around them.

A few weeks ago The Gerrer Rebbe directed his followers to new guidelines when it comes to phone usage. To better understand what it is the Rebbe is asking of his community, let me share with you a summary from one young man:

Let’s understand together what the Gerrer Rebbe has asked of people.

He said: “I know that there are people who deal in business. I know that there are many technological advances today. I know all this. But what I want is one simple thing: I don’t want you to be addicts.  I don’t want you to come home and be all the time with your phone- and not with your family and your children.

“You need a smartphone for business? No problem. We have a Vaad.  Send them the list of what you need for your business and you will get everything. But one thing you will not get- this smartphone will not have the ability to make or receive calls. It will be a work platform- and that’s all. When you get home you will be able to calmly put it aside without having to worry about missing a call. To make and receive calls you’ll have a kosher phone like all Chareidi Jews. Work, emails, you’ll have it on the other gadget.”

It is obvious that the Rebbe has seen where all this phone addiction is leading, and for the sake of the future of Klal Yisroel he is pleading for some sanity.

The Rebbe’s missive should be read and embraced by us all. We owe it to our children, to the thousands of young marrieds of our wonderful community, and most of all, to ourselves, to release our souls from this new Yetzer Hora.

Let’s put things right now, so that when we all celebrate our acceptance of the Torah on Shavuos, it should not be interrupted by some incoming emails.

 

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