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Essays 2019 / Smartphones
Phones, internet, technology. The grandparents hate it. The parents love it. And the children can’t seem to get enough of it. Many can barely live without it. They need the entertainment, they need the screens. Soon enough, parents are no longer so fond of the little devices, that they once thought were excellent babysitters. Instead of socializing with friends, there teens now sit all day in front of flashing screens of all different sizes. If anyone dares tell them they are addicted, they respond with major attitude and deny it. They say that they can control it if they want to, but regardless of what they say many find it impossible to resist reaching for a device only moments after making such a declaration. Chassidus shows us that it is possible for us living in the 21rst century, to close the gates on this generation’s Yetzer Hara (evil inclination), which includes the two main issues: negative content and waste of time, by using it only for the right purposes, and only at the right times.
It is no secret that the internet is full of knowledge. But not all that content is befitting for the sons and daughters of the King of all Kings. As the children Of Hashem1 (G-d), it is important for us to only look at, and inquire about, suitable content, especially when surfing the internet.
The reason why this essay is targeting the problem of inappropriate content particularly in connection to the internet is because it is a place where it is much easier for people to fall. Why? Because on the internet one jumps from one article to the next. When the individual finally pauses for a moment, he or she might have no idea how they came to research such useless and random facts. Of special concern is when the actual content that one may find themselves looking at might truly not be befitting a prince or princess.
Why is it important to be careful with what we see?
When a person sees something, it affects him.2 So much so that the Lubavitcher Rebbe strongly requested that children should not have any toys or pictures of non-kosher animals8 (unless for the purpose of learning about the animal) since they are impure, and the mind should be fed only pure things.
What a person sees greatly impacts the mind and leaves an everlasting impression. We know that our thoughts are the garments to the soul3. What we think about, where we put our focus, where we find our happiness, affects the Neshama (soul) and the kind of person we are and who will become. If our focus in life is on spiritual matters, this refines the soul, and it becomes sensitive to matters which are not. If someone put his focus on permissible, yet unnecessary things, or Chas veshalom (G-d forbid) something which is forbidden, it coarsens the individual and makes the person lose sensitivity towards things that are holy. The unholy does not disgust while the holy no longer excites as it should.4,10 The more insensitive one becomes, the more the things that would have been considered a huge no-no in the past become things that seem just fine.6,10
Is there anything actually wrong?
The Posuk “Midvar Sheker Tirchak5” means that one must distance himself from words of falsehood. this Certainly includes the falsehood which is scattered all over the internet. We have the obligation to make sure that whatever information we put into our heads is truthful and in line with what the Torah says6.
We were placed into this world with the specific task of bringing Moshiach11. Being that we are human, we are not perfect, and we tend to get distracted a lot. We live in a time where the world is full of distractions. If a person is bored, all that he needs to do is take his phone out of his pocket and there will be no shortage of material to look at on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter etc.
But are we using these devices as tools to serve Hashem or have we become a slave to all the social networks? Many times, the things we are doing on these devices are very good, but is your child’s bedtime really the right time to add the lady from your Chabad house as one of your new Facebook friends?
Time is a gift and must be used very carefully. We can never get back what we wasted.12 We need to use it wisely.
Unfortunately, the devices of today are made to make us lose track of time. We have a hard time staying away from them, because they keep pulling us back to them, like magnets. eventually a person may come to feel like he is no longer in control, and therefore give up by just giving in to the addiction.
Chassidus tells us that we are indeed the ones in control and helps us understand how a person can control these two major issues of time and content with regards to the technology of the 21rst century
Can I control?
Sometimes, we struggle with something so difficult that we think it is beyond our control. It is just too hard. But Chassidus tells us that it is always our choice13 to decide whether we win over any struggle.
There is a force inside of us that pulls us to do the good, called the Yetzer Tov (the good inclination), and a force which pulls us in the opposite direction, to the negative, called the Yetzer Hara (the evil inclination). These two forces are equally strong in every person. Someone who has a strong tendency to choose the negative, is not a lost cause, because that only means that he has an even greater potential for good.14
We have free choice. Hashem assured that by giving us an inner pull to both sides, positive and negative. It would be incorrect for a person to say ‘G-d gave me a pull to the bad which is stronger than my pull to the good and so therefore it isn’t my fault when I make mistakes’. Why not? Because our Yetzer Tov and our Yetzer Hara are equally as strong15.
Why then does it seem so much easier to choose the bad over just following logic that pulls us to choose the good?
When one does something, which is opposite to what the Torah says, he is feeding his Yetzer Hara.16 This strengthens him (the yetzer hara), making it easier for us to fall again and again back into that habit. It is the same thing as an addiction. The more a person fuels his addiction, let it be drugs, screen time or alcohol, the more dependant he becomes on it. So how do we avoid falling to the Yetzer Hara who “crouches at the door, ready to pounce”17 specifically in the context of controlling the amount of time we spend on our phones and using them only for the correct and appropriate things?
The Maggid of Mezritch once sent a Chossid who had trouble with his Yetzer Hara during davening to Reb Zev of Zhitomir from whom he was to learn self-control. After many tiring days of travel, the Chossid finally reached the house of Reb Zev who was home and awake. The Chossid knocked on the door, but Reb Zev ignored him. He knocked some more, yet still no one answered the door. He continued knocking for a long time until he finally gave up.
Finally, at morning, Reb Zev opened the door to the Chossid and explained that this was his house, and therefore he alone decides whom he wants to allow in to enter. He is the one in control and no matter how much someone knocks, unless he desires for the person to enter he will not open the door. After a certain amount of time with no response the person will eventually give up. The same is true with the Yetzer Hara. If we don’t desire his presence, then all we need to do is to not allow it in to begin with.18 Once it has it’s foot in the door it can enter and take control over the house.
But what happens once we already did give in and we feel like our Yetzer Hara is stronger than the YetzerTov. What does a person do when they’ve already opened the door only to find the evil behind it? What should a person who is already battling the Yetzer Hara of today do now?
Guarding your gates
We are told “Judges and police by all of your gates” 19 Every country has protection by it’s “gates” for the obvious reason of keeping the inhabitants of the city safe.
Our body is like a small city.20 In a city there is good and bad forces which struggle for control, within the body of person as well, there is good and bad forces which struggle for control. (YetzerTov and Yetzer Hara, explained above).21
In connection to this the Rebbe brings in the following verse. “To help bring the forces of good to victory, each person must act as both a judge and a police officer.” How does one act as a judge? He investigates what he wants to do and then decides whether this is something that falls in line with the Torah way of life or not. After that the person must act on the bases of what he has decided. If he decided that the action is permitted, then he may go ahead and do it. If, however the person comes to the realisation that what he wants to do is not in line with Halacha, then he shouldn’t do it. 22
If the person has come to the realisation that what he wants to do is forbidden but he doesn’t feel like he has the power to control this Yetzer Hara, then he must act as a police officer. He must enforce stronger rules so that he won’t come to do this thing. He must start now to guard all his gates. “All your gates” comes to include not just the forbidden matters but also the things that we might come to be obsessed about and overdo.22
if there is a huge gathering in the streets, it is common for police to use road barriers to keep order and control. This helps the people in the cars as well because it keeps them from driving into an area swarming with people and either accidently hitting someone or being stuck in position by the shear amount of people moving all around.
Similarly, we are commanded to build a fence around the roof 23 of house lest someone fall and hurt themselves. This prohibition extends to other areas of Torah. Building a fence is also referring to putting in place different methods of prevention for example, one may not slice bread, meat, or other items on the palm of one’s hand, as one may accidentally cut one’s hand.24
If G-d forbid, a person did not fulfill this commandment, meaning that he didn’t build a fence, and then someone accidently fell and hurt themselves. He wouldn’t say that there is no point in building a fence there was already an incident. On the contrary, he would build a fence as fast as possible so that nothing like that should happen again.
When it comes to phones there are many places where one must place enforce methods of prevention. The reason for these preventative measures isn’t that we can’t trust ourselves, but rather that on the internet many things that are falsely labeled. (e.g.: “this will explain how to do X” but when you click on it, it explains Y.) There is are pictures that pop up and even if the person will not click it, once it is seen, it instantly engraved on the brain, regardless of our self control.
The internet, social media, apps etc… Are created in a way for us not to realize how much time passes and therefore we may miss the things that we came into the world to do. Things that help us prepare the world for Moshiach.
Sur mera v’assei Tov25 (distance yourself from bad and do good)
There are two ways a person can stop a temptation. One is setting a specific time to do it with specific regulations of what you will and won’t do during that specific time, and the second way, is to distract oneself from the temptation.26
Sur me’ rah, building a fence.
We are very lucky that there is something called a digital filter. Just as we have water filters to filter out the bad stuff that we don’t want to put into our bodies when we drink, the filter for the internet or a phone filters out the unwanted stuff that is on the internet and phone. The filter can also be used to control the amount of time spent on the phone. (It can either disable certain apps, websites, or everything from a certain time to time, or give the person an allotted amount of phone time or time per app per day,) If someone puts these on himself he may come to make excuses that he can break the filter which may or may not be justifiable, that is why it is best to have someone else put in the filter password.
The Rebbe pushed very strongly that we should follow the advice of pirkei avos “aseh Lecha rav27” make a rabbi for yourself. This, the Rebbe explained, is to get a personal, spiritual mentor, one who will be judgemental but that you trust. They will help you make the right decisions without telling you what you need to do.28
Getting a Mashpiah to put in the filter password is a good idea because before you make changes it you will have to go through your own personal judge, someone who won’t justify everything for you as we usually tend to do when we want something.
If you know that you only have two hours on your phone for that day, then you are more likely to be careful and use your time wisely for that day lest you need it for something important later. Of course, in the case of a real emergency you can always just call your Mashpiah and they can add more time from their phone, but people do not generally feel comfortable disturbing people on daily basis.
Aseh Tov, doing good.
If getting a filter is not a possibility for someone, then there are still other preventative measures that this person can take. He can distract himself from the phone or the internet. How? By preplanning a very full day of holy things this will fuel his YetzerTov and make it stronger, but mainly causing his schedule to have little time available to struggle.29 (There is nothing wrong with taking a break to be able to have the energy to fulfill other tasks of serving Hashem. As long as that is the real purpose of why one is taking the break.)
For blocking content, hopefully if one has so much to do they won’t find time to struggle with it, but what if someone hasn’t done this, and today right now, at the moment, he is struggling with the websites, content that are not his standards or he’s not sure if what he is doing are up to his standards or not. (Because the internet does have the capability of messing with our standards,) What should he do?
The Rebbe is Rosh Bnei Yisroel, – head of the Jews, a Rebbe is someone whose soul is directly connected to every single Jew. The harder we work to strengthen this bond more we feel it, but even if a person’s bond is very week the person is non-observant at all and never even heard of the Rebbe they are still connected. 30
Wherever we go, the Rebbe comes with us. If someone is not sure if what he wants to go is the right thing, he should ask himself if he would be comfortable bringing the Rebbe with him onto the website that he wishes to visit.31
Do I Need This?
There is a famous quote brought in Hayom Yom of the Rebbe, “What is forbidden is forbidden and what is permitted is not necessary.” Just because we have the capability to do something doesn’t mean that we should do it.32
The Rebbe was very careful with how he used his time33 and we are encouraged to do the same. Before we go on our phones we should ask ourselves, do I need to do this? Is there something more I can take on in this extra time? These tactics of asking ourselves question are only good if we remember to ask them.
But Chassidus tells us that we must be organised. We cannot use the ‘I forgot’ excuse because once something we’ve seen something, it can never be unseen. once time has been wasted, it can never be filled. So, if a person has trouble remembering to ask himself these questions, then I personally suggest that he should be organised. He can either have timed reminders that pop up on the screen asking him some of these questions or he can put a picture of the Rebbe as his lock and/or home screen. 31
Digital devices and the internet create a strong temptation and opening for failure. But they also serve a good purpose. We need to use them in a way that is befitting for a prince or princess. Things that we see strongly impact us, we must make sure that we only fuel our mind with good, holy things. Time is not meant to be wasted. We need to use it to the fullest. To do this it is necessary to take preventative measures.
One more thing “Yagati Umatzasi Tamim34” if you try hard, you will succeed.
1 Avinu Malkeinu, Deuteronomy 14:1,
2Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 25, Hisva’aduyos 5744,
3 Tanya, Perek yud beis.
4 Bosi legani frierdiker Rebbe 5710
5 Mishpatim 23:1.
6 Rebbe Rashab’s Kuntres HoAvodah
8 dibru chachamim be’hoveh
10 Rebbe Rashab’s Kuntres Uma’ayan (p. 66
11 Likkutei Sichos, Vol. V, p. 240.
12 tonu rabanna mitzvas ner chanuka 5738
`13rambam, hilchus teshuva Perek hey, devorim 30:15, igeres chelek gimmel p41, see hisvadus 5746 vol2 p649
14 Tanya Perek beis.
16See Sanhedrin 39b, and in Rashi on ibid. 96[b], Shabbos 105b)
17 Gen. 4:7)
18 Once Upon a Chassid (Kehot, 1994),
19 deut.16 :18
20(nedarim 32), Tanya chapter 8,
21 Tanya chater 8
22 chabad.org, rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, guarding your gates,
23 Deut. 22:8; Code of Jewish Law, Choshen Mishpat 427:1.
24 Talmud, Berachot 8a; Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch, ibid. 11.
25 tehillim, (34:15 )
26 pirkei avos 1:16
27 rabbi Silberstein based off of sefer hasichos 5752, sicha from tu bishat.
28 sefer hasichos 5747, chol hamoed sukos,
29 Igrot Kodesh, vol. XIV, p. 503.
30 chabad.org What is behind a holy person’s supernatural abilities? By Yisroel Cotlar
31 congregationlubavitch.org The Rebbe Answers by Rabbi David Zizuv
32Hayom yom 25 adar 2
33 a chossid is a mesudar, story of the rebbe wanting to know the exact minute of mincha
34 the twelve pesukim