By Rabbi Yitzchok Schochet
The final words at the end of Ethics of the Fathers reads: “All that G-d created in His world, He created for His glory.”
The point of these words is that everything that exists within G-d’s universe can serve some inherent spiritual purpose. Whether it’s a car in order to drive to synagogue, a mobile phone by which to call and cheer up a friend or even the internet through which a plethora of Torah study is now available.
Of course with time there are advances to technology and today all three of the aforementioned can be rolled into one, such that I can sit in my car, have my mobile phone speak out an email received and dictate a response.
I was therefore surprised that Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks took a swipe at Steve Jobs recently when he blamed him for engendering a selfish generation. The concerns expressed by the Chief Rabbi are absolutely correct. But this “want it finer, want it better, want it faster” ailment that so plagues our society has been around since the dawn of advertising. From cars to phones, holiday destinations to children’s toys, every manufacturer shares in the blame for creating the consumerism mentality.
The ‘i’ in front of Mr. Jobs’ products might underscore the reality, but I don’t believe he is anymore to blame than say Jaguar who put out a new car every six months and look to entice the same insatiability within would-be buyers.
To be sure, one will have never seen people camping outside car showrooms for three nights in order to be the first to own the new car, or outside Toys R Us to get their hands on the latest Barbie doll, but Jobs was just picking up on an already voracious consumers and delivering an exciting, practical and mostly affordable product.
I fondly recall a man whom I never had the chance to meet but thanks to the internet we established a unique rapport. It was nearly a decade ago when he emailed me to ask a question. This was in response to my Ask the Rabbi column in London’s Jewish News. Owing to the nature of the question I avoided publication and emailed a direct response. Realising that we both shared the same internet provider he started to instant message me – this in the day when such messaging was not as rampant. He endearingly referred to me as ‘Rebbe’ and told me to call him ‘Shvants’ (crude term meaning tail and usually implying a ‘loser’). It became apparent that he was relatively young and awaiting a liver transplant. We never met. He never wanted to. But we conversed regularly over the course of two years, always by instant message. He wasn’t a shul-goer and got very defensive when I would attempt to encourage him to put on Tefilin.
I hadn’t heard from him for a little while and of course had no way to contact him. Then I took a call one day from someone identifying herself as Mr. Brown’s daughter.
“My father had gone into hospital with liver complications and unfortunately has passed away.”
I was looking through my shul list and could not find the name. “Is your father a member of the synagogue? Are you a member?”
“My Dad was not a member but you knew him well from the internet.”
“Oh my goodness – Shvants!”
There was quiet at the other end: “Who?”
She couldn’t know all the ins and outs of our relationship but she said her father spoke about me often. “He asked if you could officiate at his funeral.” How could I say no? “And he wanted me to tell you that he took his Tefilin into the hospital with him and put them on the morning before he passed away.”
Did I mention I would communicate with ‘Shvants’ from my Apple computer? Mr Jobs, you may have figured out how to take advantage of people’s greed, but I wouldn’t lay the blame at your feet. To my mind you did a mitzvah.
This article (as well as all my articles for the shul website) was written on an iPad.