Friday, October 5, 2012

Of Sukkot and Cell Phones

5th Day of Sukkot
19 Tishrei, 5773
October 5, 2012

I have a serious Sukkah problem, chronic even.

My Sukkah problem is that I have not had one. The last apartment in which I lived kindly banned them. After I signed the lease. Now that I’m in DC, I have figured out enough space to have my efficiency Sukkah, but was in L.A. for most of the holiday.

This has afforded me a strange opportunity – to watch the holiday from the outside, participating but not fully immersing myself. I am grateful for the unusual lesson.

What I’ve learned is that there is a thick line between doing and not doing. This line is not the end of the world, but it is real and cannot be rationalized away. The difference between doing and not doing is the import of what I taught over Yom Kippur, “[Rabbi] Shimon his son says…it is not the sermon which is the essence, but rather the story told by the action.” (Avot 1:17) We often get caught up in the explaining of things, the lovely words used to describe them, the rhetoric of their value. There is no substitution for the weight and solidity of doing.

Being sukkah-less does not abdicate my worth as a Jew. But I must argue against self-delusion – thinking and doing are different. One cannot be substituted for the other. My sukkot with and without huts were radically different experiences.

Which brings me to my soap box: cell phones. This Yom Kippur, a cell phone went off during Musaf. I only note this as setting a record for the fewest times a cell has rung during Shabbat or the Days of Awe. I count on five or six. I’ve had 15.

Every brand of Judaism values what we call negative space – the clearing out of everyday activities in order to make space for holiness. Spiritual depth requires the elimination of clutter. But in our addiction to smart phones, our brains convince us not to leave them behind.  Like all addictions, the reasons to take the drug are damn persuasive in the moment, but resolve themselves to be total nonsense.

No matter how we spin it, there is a thick line between davenning with a phone or without one. And no matter what we say, we probably don’t need one. Leave the thinking about behind, take a firm step towards real meaning, take Shabbats from your phone.

1 comment:

  1. This a compelling piece, Scott. Thanks.