emunah, tefillah, a little mussar, and a shmeck of geula

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Perhaps They’re Better Than You

In the Belly of the Beast

 “And then came Amalek…

Our Sages tell us that Amalek is the paragon of evil.  While there has been no shortage of evil (as directed toward Klal Yisroel) these past few millennium, forensic evidence that ties any of it to Amalek doesn’t come easy.  Aside from a couple of guest appearances in the guise of Agag and Haman, Amalek seems to be the where’s Waldo of Tanach.

Generically, however, Amalek is unfortunately alive and well, r”l.

In the same way that Islam has been the means by which all of the middos inherent in the Torah’s description of a pere adom has been channeled into peoples from non-Arab stock such as the Iranians and the Pakistanis, the wickedness and kefira of Amalek has been morphed into various religions and political philosophies over the centuries up until our own day.  A plethora of movements and ideologies were let loose by the French Revolution, and Amalek’s fingerprints are all over them.

And then came the Internet.

In much the same way, as Rashi tells us, that the Ribbono Shel Olam incited the Dog (Amalek) to “bite” Yisroel in the midbar in response to its asking: Is Hashem in our midst or not?...the Ribbono Shel Olam has incited a digital Dog against our generation, a generation that doesn’t even know enough to ask whether Hashem is in our midst or not.  It’s the last generation before Moshiach and, as Chazal tell us, it’s a generation that, not coincidently, has the face of a dog.

What horror can we recount that hasn’t already been recited ad nauseum, to the point that a certain numbness has taken the place of what was once our collective innocence?  Breaches have replaced barriers, and we have long since run out of fingers to stick in the dike that used to separate us from that sea of iniquity that is the rest of the world.

In a previous time, a time conceptually removed from the present as far as night is from day, the brush strokes that delineated the exterior of a Torah Jew’s life were more often than not a reflection of an emunah peshuta that percolated within.  In the generation with the face of a dog, those externalities all too often mask an inner weakness born of hashkafas more representative of the street than of the yeshivas.  

“Remember what Amalek did to you, on the way, when you were leaving Egypt, that he happened upon you on the way, and he killed among you all the weaklings at your rear, when you were faint and exhausted, and he did not fear G-d.”  
Do we not see this process repeating itself in front of our eyes? The Internet is spiritually killing among us all the weaklings at our rear as it culls the hashkafically faint and exhausted from the ranks of the Klal, and in this sense at least, the havoc it is wreaking more closely tracks the paradigm of Amalek than even the evil of atheistic Communism.

Spiritual killing fields notwithstanding, the Internet also has a flip side.

“There is a desolate land which is thus far underdeveloped spiritually.  There are Jews there who don’t even know that they lack anything.  You had the unearned privilege to be brought up with Torah and Mitzvos.  ‘How lucky we are, how good is our lot.’

“Be there a day, a week, a month, a year, ten years.  You won’t have nice clothes or a comfortable home.  The Jews in the place where you are going manage without them.  Why should you be better?

“Perhaps they’re better than you.”

So spoke the Lubavitcher Rebbe z”l, to his Chasidim as he exhorted them to get out of their comfort zone and seek out lost Jews, wherever they may be found.  The words perhaps they’re better than you caught my attention, and I believe that they hold the key to understanding the Internet’s impact on the totality of Jewish life.

Ironically, in contradistinction to Amalek, the Internet functions in much the same way as the Parah Adumah, l’havdil.  In addition to rendering impure those who by any yardstick were previously fine upright Torah Jews, it has the power to purify those who have spent their whole life wallowing in the filth of the goyishe velt.

The high profile warnings that have been voiced from one end of Torah Jewry to the other as to the well documented toxicity of the Internet has obfuscated the fact that the Internet is the best thing that ever happened to kiruv rechokim.  As far as kiruv is concerned the Internet is a win win phenomenon with no apparent downside, which enables us to reach people that heretofore were totally inaccessible vis á vis kiruv in any form.  A Jew living in a cabin in the Rocky Mountains fifty miles from the closest human being has access, by means of the Internet, to more shiurim than a Jew living in Lakewood or Monsey without an Internet connection.

In the same way that some Torah Jews who would never even think of paying a visit to Times Square or Greenwich Village seek out the forbidden by way of the Internet in the privacy of their home or office, assimilated Jews who would never be caught in public at a Gateway seminar or a Renaissance Weekend will, out of curiosity, click around the Torah sites on the Internet from the privacy of their home or office because they don’t feel threatened there.

We are, at present, at the very beginning of a kiruv revolution that will bring into the ranks of Torah Jewry previously unimaginable numbers of Jews who are immune to the predations of the Internet because they have been inoculated for the future by virtue of their past.  Their numbers will far exceed the losses suffered at the dark end of the Internet.  As the weak ones are tragically removed at one end they will be replaced by the strong on the other end.

And while the Internet's Klal Yisroel body count should eat you up inside, the sunny side of the Internet equation is also very much your business.  It’s not something to be contemplated with studied indifference.  After all, who’s to say whose blood is redder?

Perhaps they’re better than you.