I met with a prospective student this week who wanted the opportunity to ask a rabbi some questions. He wondered how I could believe that the Torah’s ancient laws have any relevance in the 21st century. How could the antiquated laws of the Torah possibly speak to today’s world with all its modern discoveries, inventions, and complexities?
The remarkable thing is, I said, that many of the most ancient laws in the Torah are incredibly contemporary even as they apply to devices that have just come onto the market. Take, for example, the world of technology. The typical multi-tasking modern worker sits at a desk surrounded by screens—a desktop, a laptop, a tablet, a smartphone. The typical child, according to a recent study, spends nine hours every day using media for non-homework purposes, more time than they spend sleeping or interacting with their parents.
We are inundated with email, Facebook posts, tweets, news alerts, and more. For most of our awake hours, we suffer from the most contagious malady of the day, FOMO, the fear of missing out.
Along come the ancient laws of Shabbat, and they command us “six days a week you can ride the information superhighway. Six days a week you can tap your screens and view the world through a bunch of pixels. But on the seventh day, you must live life not controlled by technology. For 25 hours your screen must go dark and you must experience the real world, not a virtual world or one of emoticons, but one of touch and smell and taste and sounds and sight and emotions.”
I explained to that inquisitive prospective student that when shabbat arrives, I say thank God for shabbat. For without it, I’d be on my devices 24/7. I’d be completely controlled by technology. Shabbat liberates me from the chains of the virtual world and treats me for 25 hours to an island of stillness and peacefulness. Who in the modern world today couldn’t benefit from that?