Over 25 years ago Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach, zt”l, former Rosh Yeshiva of Ponevezh Yeshiva, noted that right after World War II, the nisayon of the generation changed. Before World War II, the Jewish Nation was challenged by the Haskalah Movement which r”l caused many brilliant Bnei Torah to be swept away by its powerful currents and captured by its glamour. After the War, this apikorsus became forgotten and the Haskalah Movement lost its attraction.
Rav Shach remarked that the nisayon of our generation in America and in Eretz Yisroel is an overabundance of materialism. Today we are being bombarded by affluence. This more recent nisayon has resulted in many people feeling enormous pressure to maintain the façade of a certain image. I have often said that in this generation, people spend money they don’t have to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like! The premium placed on externalities and optics has resulted in many people, even in the Torah Observant community, placing form above substance. Herein lies the powerful and timeless lesson of this week’s Parsha, Parshas Re’eh.
In our journey through life, the Talmud is at pains to point out that while everything is from Heaven, the area where we retain the highest freedom of volition is with respect to choosing between right and wrong. Of note is the fact in this weeks’ Parsha that when the Torah invites us to choose between blessing and curse, the Torah uses the word “re’eh” in extending this opportunity.
The power of the “eye” – i.e. – of sight, is highlighted in numerous places in the Torah and the Talmud. Chazal teach us that one’s eyes are the “windows to the soul.” The Talmud warns us that the Yetzer Hara has no power except with respect to what the eyes see (Sotah, 8a). The power of the sense of sight is highlighted in the Torah from the beginning of mankind. In describing the catalyst to the first chet we learn that “the woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and that it was desirable to the eyes.” (Bereishis, 1:6).
The proliferation of technological advances in recent years has brought with it speed and convenience but it has also caused the distinction between private and public to become somewhat illusory. On Yom Kippur, during the litany of Al Chets while beseeching the Almighty for forgiveness, we include the act of gazing into the window of a neighbor, even unintentionally. The depraved images of immortality that hover in cyberspace and are accessible at the click of a button to the naked eye, is beyond that which earlier generations could even fathom.
Sadly, sociological trends in ‘pop culture’ seem to be forcing the “Eye Generation,” which lacks barriers and self-imposed filters, into the “I Generation.” The subliminal driver with respect to social media comes down to screaming at the world to “look at me.” In a culture which seems to reward self-aggrandizement, it is no wonder that in 2013 The Oxford English Dictionary chose “Selfie” as the Word of the Year.
Instead of expending energy on trying to impress people we don’t like, Moshe implores Klal Yisrael to remember the only Being in this World that we need to impress – i.e. – “do what is good and right in the Eyes of G-d.” (Devarim, 12:28)
In stark contrast to the marketing strategy of Apple Computer, where the letter “i” precedes every permutation of the company’s growing menu of choices, from iPhones, iTablet, iPad etc, perhaps it is no coincidence that in loshon hakodesh the pronoun “I” is inserted at the end of the verb and is marked not by a large capital line but rather a modest line in the form of a yud.
As the world waits with baited breath for the release of the much touted iPhone 8, for many people sensitive to the dangers of technology and the launch of yet another “i,” perhaps there is some comfort to be had by recalling that “re’eh” in this weeks’ Parsha is written in the singular. Wherever we may have slipped in the past, whatever missteps we may have taken as a result of the pernicious impact of technology and the pressures brought to bear on our generation, the past is but a distant memory … In the present, we get to open our eyes to new beginnings.
May we maintain a sense of optimist for the future and the realization that it is not about “i” but rather about “Him” as the summer winds down and we once again begin to prepare for Elul and the opportunity to press reboot in earnest.
Rabbi Chanan (Antony) Gordon is a Sir Abe Bailey Fellow, Fulbright Scholar and graduate of the Harvard Law School. Chanan has spent most of his career in the high end of the financial service industry.
Chanan can best be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.