LONELY CHECKOUT | Harav Y. Reuven Rubin Shlita

Printable version


Harav Y. Reuven Rubin Shlita

I know, we have all been there, it is Erev Shabbos, the hiemisha shops have closed and suddenly there is a need for a few items. You drive over to the closest super market that has a ‘kosher aisle’, hoping they have some acceptable wine. This was the scenario that I was caught up in last week. As I entered the store I was accosted by a fully uniformed employee with what seemed to be an electronic scanner in his hand. “Have you tried our new quick ‘smart’ shopping check out devise?’ He beseeched with a smile. I stammered, ‘no but I have no time and only need two items.’ This guy was not taking no for an answer. ‘It only takes a minute, and you won’t ever shop without one in the future.’  ‘Yes, I understand, but really I can’t spare any time now.’ By this time, the fellow had shoved the said appliance into my hand, and pointed it at some electric display board, it chirped a firm yet friendly beep. I could imagine a whispered voice coaxing: ‘Go now my friend, shop in good spirit, and just point the screen as you go.’ Well, I’m an accommodating soul, and felt almost obliged to help this desperate fellow out. So, I went off to the kosher aisle, grabbed a bottle of wine, and then went and retrieved the second item, a bottle of almond milk, (don’t ask).  As I raced my way towards the new smart check out area, my new found buddy popped up, ‘How did it go? You see, it only took a minute, now just point the scanner on the screen and you’re done.’ I was now getting a bit upset, I so needed to get on with my life, with or without this new quick fix.

As I scanned, my new friend smirked with self-satisfaction, and then, well a hidden announcer called out to all and sundry that I had a check out problem. Seems because I had a bottle of wine I needed to prove I’m above the legal age. The minor kafuffle was soon sorted, I then turned to the store’s representative and shyly asked, ‘Don’t you know that with these new gimmicks you are going to drive many of your coworkers out of their jobs?’ He shrugged sheepishly, ‘yeah some others have asked that as well. But this is the new world, and we all have to get ahead of the times.’ I certainly had no time to share my thoughts on this philosophical subject, and just thanked him. I described this little vignette to a successful retail business man from our chevra, who startled me with a deep observation. ‘This is indicative of what has happened in society. No one has time to talk, no one wants to share small niceties, hence the communities are falling apart. Sure, let’s just get rid of all those pesky humans, and stare on our little screens, clicking up the cost, both monetarily and emotional.’

This is where society is headed, and as a Torah community we should be worried. I have seen studies that show that a sense of loneliness has become a major cause of mental strain and anguish in the Western World. Pubs, that age old center of social life in Britain are closing in droves. Houses of worship stand empty, whilst all their congregation stroll thru life starring at their phones. Society is becoming a very lonely place, rife with anxiety and sadness.

Boruch Hashem, we have a vibrant Torah lifestyle, shuls are open, Shiurim being given, davening done with vibrancy day and night. However, even we are losing the art of sharing. How many sit by chasunahs looking at their phones with nary a mazel tov being murmured to celebrants? Shul corridors filled with sweet Yidden talking over their beloved phone whilst wearing tallis and tefillin? Slowly we seem to be slipping apart, talking, schmoozing is becoming a lost art. Even sitting in shul seems a task, with some clicking away on their toys instead of being part of the chabura. Shul decisions are discussed and decided in cyberspace, no one talks to chaverim, they’d rather click messages that are quick and ill thought out. It seems it’s easier to insult someone with whom you disagree in the space of a small screen than to be a mensch and talk things over with derech eretz. Yiddishkiet calls for togetherness. We can’t exist without one another, even basic prayer takes ten.

In Parshas Vayetzei (29:4) we learn:

“And Yaakov said to them, (the shepherds of Charan) ‘My brothers, where are you from?”  The Medrash tells us that this discussion is a reference to how the Yidden will perceiver in Golus. The Yismach Yesroil in a long discussion, points out that the shepherds were asking Yaakov Avinu how will the Yidden find support and remain strong in the difficult golus they will have to withstand? In his answer he gave an instructive suggestion: ‘Achai” (brothers). Yidden will survive when they live in togetherness as brothers. The Rebbe goes further and explains, ‘ where are you (plural) from’ ,  the intonation is that true brotherhood comes about when each of us holds themselves as a nothing (ayin) and that only bonding with others can we be a people that will ultimately see our Redemption.

Bonding with others needs encouragement, beyond the screen in your pocket there must be human contact. People are extremely lonely in this technological whirlwind, each of us should stop a moment, take a breath and ask if we still care enough to connect beyond the world of Apps.