Jewish World Review August 23, 2001 / 4 Elul, 5761


By Osher Chaim Levene -- EVERY generation has its moniker --- Beat ... Woodstock ... Disco ... Me ... You ... Us ... And perhaps the first of this new era, should be ..."unplugged."

From mobile furniture to cellular phones to cordless keyboards, we are living a "wireless" existence. But being "unplugged," has also become an attitude. One that needs examining.

More and more, it seems, the average person has not only cut his cords, but also the "mesh" and "entanglement" of obligations and commitments. Why ground oneself with responsibilities, when one can opt for a "cordless," carefree existence?

Ours is increasingly becoming a society where everyone is granted "rights," but few accept "responsibilities." The problem is that the two are not separable. And where there is no commitment, no embracing of obligation, the very fabric of society breaks down. This is all the more so, in a society where the very words "faithfulness," "allegiance," and "loyalty" are more often than not, devoid of any meaning.

Human existence comes equipped with responsibilities. It is an intrinsic part of man's makeup, of who he really is. It is because we are human, that we are able -- and expected -- to shoulder responsibility.

In the Dessler household in pre-war Europe, there were two beautiful glass dishes. As a young boy, the legendary Rabbi Eliyohu Eliezer Dessler broke one. He was promptly -- and harshly -- rebuked by his mother. Only a fortnight later, a similar scenario unfolded. But this time, the culprit was one of the chickens running about the grounds.

After his mother calmly scooped up all the broken shards and returned the chicken to its cage without so much as uttering a harsh word, the child became disappointed.

Initially, young Eliyohu Eliezer wondered if it was not, in fact, better to be a carefree chicken. It did not take long for the future Jewish ethicist and philosopher to conclude that as a human, he was far superior to the chicken --- even if that meant a limiting of his "freedoms." Indeed, while a chicken might get away with more and escape chastisement for smashing a beautiful glass dish, this is only because it lacks any form of responsibility and has no potential for greatness.

Assuming responsibility lies at the very heart of Jewish observance. There are responsibilities towards the Creator, responsibilities towards ourselves and social responsibilities towards our world. With regards to the latter, there are large sections of the Talmud that discuss all the intricate laws of nezikin, damages. A person is liable for the damage that not only he, but also his property, inflicts onto others.

The acknowledgement of the obligation, the willingness to immediately accept responsibility for one's actions, is truly a hard lesson for man to master. With Adam's primeval sin, he abrogated responsibility for eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil by shifting the blame onto his wife. And she, in turn, passed it onto the temptations of the snake. Cain similarly denied killing his brother, by responding to the Creator: "Am I my brother's keeper?" And, initially, King Saul denied not obeying the prophet Samuel's instructions to annihilate Amolek and their king.

People naturally find it difficult not only to commit themselves, but, moreover, with the ensuing obligation, to remain committed thereafter. But that is exactly what the Jewish nation did at Sinai in "an eternal covenant to the Creator" that would never be revoked by either party.

In Judaism, religious commitment starts from the moment a youth enters adulthood. The celebration associated with a child becoming twelve -- for a girl -- or thirteen -- for a boy -- is entry into the category of becoming a responsible human being and Jew. The obligations and responsibilities given to him encourage the newly pledged member to strive and accomplish in accordance to the Torah -- Bible's -- framework of living. This should not be pushed off; rather, "It is good for a man to bear a yoke in his youth" (Eichah 3:27).

Responsibility -- as implicit in its name -- demands a response. For the Jew, it demands a wholly Jewish response, the affirmation of his eternal, everlasting commitment to the Creator.

Being a Jew is quite a responsibility: It is a position with no jurisdictions or excuse available to abrogate his appointment. And its response demands functioning within Torah and mitzvos (Judaism's 613 precepts) and sanctifying the Creator's Name.

With the recital of the central "Shema" prayer, the Jew attests to the "cord" and lifeline that define his existence: The Creator's Sovereignty. This recognition is followed by the obligations that such knowledge and obedience entails. His is not a life of indulgence and sensuality without limit. The preamble to the performance of mitzvos is to be "plugged in" to a spiritual socket that is his lifeline, through acknowledging of the Creator as Master of the Universe.

All forms of attachments seemingly restrict and impose limitations. Any commitment is perceived as inhibiting and delimiting, the innate fear of being forever restrained by attachment to the power cord. The paradox of this is: the attachment to purpose, to a framework and world within which you shoulder responsibility and fulfill your obligations.

A wireless environment, although mobile and convenient, is nevertheless completely self-focused. And while a mobile phone may run as a separate entity for a while, it nevertheless has to ultimately re-establish a connection with the power supply, to be recharged.

A Jew has a responsibility never to sunder his lifetime commitments to the Creator that underlies his purpose and human superiority. And a Jew has to be plugged in eternally --- plugged into the One "Power Source."

Osher Chaim Levene is a columnist with The London Jewish Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


© 2001, London Jewish Tribune