Friday, August 27, 2010



Parshat Ki Tavo

My short time as the rabbi of Adat Shalom has been one of immense theological growth and newly gained insight. 

Why? There is a concept in the Psalms and Torah of the “enemies of God.” This idea has always been deeply problematic for me: if God created everything, how can there be enemies of God?

But now I understand. There is such a thing as an enemy of God, and I have discovered its name: spam email. After years in existence before me, the rabbi@adatshalomla email has the apparent distinction of traversing from one spam list to another and another. Every day brings a fresh barrage.

The vast majority of the spam we get seems to flow straight from the id of a late middle-aged Italian gangster: porn, fake Viagra, the occasional bogus stock tip, and rolex watches. I also receive near constant viruses attempting to invade my computer under false pretenses.

What’s fascinating -- and this is the real point -- is that spam offers the worst things in the world. Not the most evil, simply the worst: the most base; the most confused; the least sophisticated and intelligible; the most likely to defraud you in small ways (and sometimes big ones); the least likely to satisfy us in any real way. Spam is the externalized real form of the all the little evils that inhabit the world.

Yet the messages keep coming. The larger email servers, who employ increasingly effective spam filters, report that they block over two billion spam messages a day and still many get through. My concern is not for the moral degradation of society (these paltry impulses have always been there), nor for the way that spam might lead us astray (do we really think we’re getting a genuine Rolex?), but simply for the fact that we’re being numbed by an overwhelming tide of small evils. And small evils are so much harder to effectively address than great ones. Kierkegaard writes:

“What I complain of is that life is not like a novel where there are hard-hearted fathers, and goblins and trolls to fight with, enchanted princesses to free. What are all such enemies taken together compared to the pallid, bloodless, glutinous nocturnal shapes with which I fight and to which I myself give being.” Either/Or p.45

 What Torah demands from all of us is to ever enlarge our acuity of perception; to become more sensitive, not less: “and God will circumcise your hearts...” Devarim 30:6 It is not clear how we can attain such sensitivity in the midst of such numbness, and thus I think of spam as an enemy of God. Far be it from me to suggest political action, but I would vote for an anti-spam bill in a heartbeat. And after Shabbat, I’m buying a better spam filter.

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