So here I am in Alaska for a Shabbaton, and it's Friday morning at 9am and still dark outside. And for the moment I only have dial-up access to the internet (which I even have to pay extra for!) There is some frustration as I can't get quick and easy access to things I might need or want via the internet to tweak some of my planned presentations, etc., or stay in more regular contact with colleagues and friends. And imagine the frustration to trying to use spell-checking as with each word it takes a while for the screen to reload. (And my typing is atrocious!) So there is a wonderful irony as it relates to the musing below from 5764. I've crossed a threshold and it's hard to step back! Yet I'm also on the threshold of what I expect will be a most wonderful time here with a few hundred Jewish Alaskans! And one of my workshops is on the topic of using popular culture in the classroom, which connects nicely to my 5764 musing thought. So enjoy.
Thesholds It is said that the final words of parashat Vayechi and sefer Bereshit (the book of Genesis), "B'Mitzrayim" ("in Egypt") [Gen. 50:26] remind us that a new chapter in the story of the people of Israel is about to begin. It tells us that we are on the threshold of a whole new adventure.
We have all stood on many thresholds. They are at once exciting and terrifying. We often spend a lot of time stuck in the threshold as the excitement and fear struggle. Yet we must move forward and cross the threshold. Sometimes, our decisions to do so come from a head-driven fortitude, the outcome of logical thought-processes, of self debate, of weighing the pros and cons.
And sometimes our decisions to proceed past a threshold come from the heart.
Not so long ago, we all stood on a threshold--that of a new electronic information age. Some of us have crossed the threshold and moved on. Others are still lingering in the doorway. Some are boldly but with some temerity checking the waters. Others remain locked in self-dialogue, incessantly weighing pros and cons.
I recall an online discussions amongst a group who were, for the most part, at the vanguard of bringing their congregations into the age of online presence, i.e., web sites. There was much sturm and drang about what to do, how to do, whether it should be done. People had (and still have) fears over issues of safety and security, privacy, and more.
It seems that most congregations today have taken the leap and gotten past their fears--although one sees a great variety among congregations as to what information they put on the web. Sadly, I think that what drove most congregations through the threshold was economics. They simply couldn't afford to not have a presence, especially if they wanted their membership numbers to remain steady or increase. So some congregations "bit the bullet" and plunged ahead. But most often their decisions were made with their heads. And it shows. Gd forgive me that bit of open criticism, for even I am guilty of that for which I am now criticizing others. I want to make a point, so I taking this liberty.
Some years ago, when congregations really were just reaching the threshold on web presence, I responded to a message posted on a webmasters e-mail discussion list. In this message, the poster was asking;
"I'm looking for a bigger picture. What can a Net presence do for a congregation, uniquely? What functions should it perform? I am currently prototyping a web site which I will soon present to a committee for discussion and revision. I am also studying the issue academically."
At the time, I considered making a lengthy, academic response to this query. I caught myself before I traveled down that all too familiar road and reminded myself that, like our ancestors at the end of sefer Bereshit, were standing at a threshold of a whole new adventure. Jacob did reveal for his sons a few details about what may come to be, but Gd did not permit Jacob to reveal the whole truth of what was to be. Gd may know what the future of Judaism and the World Wide Web may be. We can only make educated guesses. And I think sometimes Gd likes to twist reality to remind us that we can make all the educated guesses we want and still be dead wrong.
When we are at the start of a new adventure, there isn't all that much that our heads can tell us about what is ahead. So we must look to our hearts. I wrote, in part, these words in response:
"Just as we should with our synagogues themselves, we should be managing our web sites as much with our hearts as with our heads."
"We...argue in our Board Meetings about mundane and trivial things, and create business-like web sites just as we too often treat our congregations as a business. Let's give our brains a rest and put our hearts to work.
"So, let's try these reasons for having a web page: a. Use the web as an extension of Torah and our Reform Judaism to teach, enlighten and inform, and strengthen Judaism. b. Allow people to be taught, enlightened, informed, and strengthened. Isn't that enough?"
It was a noble thought at the time, though perhaps a bit Polly anna-esque, as I can often be. Reality sets in. Web sites are not only communication tools, but recruiting tools. We can't ignore reality, nor should we disregard wise counsel. So we must learn to use both our hearts and our heads. So doing, I suspect we will have greater success in the long run.
Those many years ago (well, actually, in was 1996) I also added these words:
"There are those who fear that we will become slaves to our computers. We will become keyboard potatoes. Maybe that will happen."
I'll interject here that some studies are showing that this is already beginning to happen. Yet, I also posited these thoughts:
"Maybe [this is all] a preamble to a new redemption, as we are led from the days of slavery to our computers into a new promised land - when we and our creations work hand in hand with the one who created us. The next choice you run up against-try deciding with both your head and your heart."
I commend to yet that thought. The web and computers are becoming may indeed have already become, commonplace and everyday. And some of us are in danger of becoming, if we are not already, slaves to the technology. (All those jokes about men and the TV remote may soon yield to jokes about all of us with our wireless keyboards, our PDAs, our X-Boxes, our Instant Messaging.) We may do well to heed the lessons we learn from Torah, both in sefer Bereshit, and those we are about to learn anew in the remaining four books -- so that we will be ready and empowered to find our way to freedom from the slavery of technology, yet also find a way to integrate technology into our covenant in meaningful ways.
Ironic, isn't it, that I disseminate these very words through the power of this technology? So maybe we are already developing the skills necessary to co-opt it for Gd's purposes rather than our own. Ken y'hi ratzon. Ken y'hi ratzoneinu.
Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazeik.
©2004 and 2006 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some previous musings on the same parasha:
Vayechi 5761/5-Unethical Wills
Vayechi 5763 - I Got it Good and That Ain't Bad (Redux 5760)
Vayechi 5759-Trading Places
Vayechi 5762-The Wrong Good
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