Tishrei 5 5777
Today, we are publishing a double love letter for your double super Sabbath souls. Wishing you a restful, peaceful, and love-ful Sabbath. Be back on Sunday!
Dear Digital Distraction,
I finally got time - made time - for Andrew Sullivan’s much talked about essay about digital distraction. I didn’t read it on my phone but rather sat on my sofa, laptop in lap, and slowly read through the manifesto reminding us, again, to better balance our virtual and real life. Digital life, with all of its gifts, and they are many, is also crippling us and costing our well being with ways we are only now beginning to assess and really worry about.
The lack of focus, the pained necks, the dispensable humanity that comes with swiping, the never-off access - all these and more erode our sense of self and of communal health in alarmingly increasing speed. We are less alone with our thoughts, and less together with others in our long bouts of being.
Then comes the Sabbath. Our ancient tool now called ‘unplug’ to give us back our being.
Sullivan writes about the Sabbath: “Judeo-Christian tradition recognized a critical distinction — and tension — between noise and silence, between getting through the day and getting a grip on one’s whole life. The Sabbath — the Jewish institution co-opted by Christianity — was a collective imposition of relative silence, a moment of calm to reflect on our lives under the light of eternity. It helped define much of Western public life once a week for centuries — only to dissipate, with scarcely a passing regret, into the commercial cacophony of the past couple of decades. It reflected a now-battered belief that a sustained spiritual life is simply unfeasible for most mortals without these refuges from noise and work to buffer us and remind us who we really are. But just as modern street lighting has slowly blotted the stars from the visible skies, so too have cars and planes and factories and flickering digital screens combined to rob us of a silence that was previously regarded as integral to the health of the human imagination.”
On this 34th day of Prepent, the last Sabbath of our journey and the first one of the brand new year I invite me and all of us back into much deeper digital disruption. Back into the silence, sacred pleasures, simple tasks and local life.
This coming year, I dream of many less distractions, better balance between online and real life, with all the quiet boring dark days that come with not always being ‘on’.
“For if there is no dark night of the soul anymore that isn’t lit with the flicker of the screen, “ writes Sullivan, “then there is no morning of hopefulness either.”
We want it all, with moderation and the wisdom to say no.
Thank you digitalia for enabling us to turn you off.
Tishrei 6 5777
I walked with one of my kids this week who to my amazement knew an entire song from Hamilton by heart and sang it to me, pitch perfect. It’s a lot of words.
I loved it and also realized that we have not been singing much together, not since the kids were really young.
Do folks still sing a lot these days? Around a sabbath table or in a house of worship, karioke or piano bar? This simple art of vocalizing lyrics, harmonies and giggles, the sounds of music all alive - so much a part of our human bonds that go away behind our screens and downloads. I miss more singing.
Some of the most memorable moments of my childhood are around the Sabbath table, fine china and flowers, silver and songs. The songs, Shabbat repertoire of hymns and psalms, were often known by heart and yet we had those little books with printed words and prayers. My father had the ones he loved, and his familiar cough before “Menucha ‘V’simacha” with a deadly tune that yet he liked so much, is as much part of my Shabbat soul as the flavor of my mother’s soup.
On this first Shabbat of the year I dream of much more singing - not only on Shabbat. To my friends at Lab/Shul - where we sing a lot - I wish a year of loud and lovely choir-like loud singing. To all of us, each in our own worlds, more of the same, more often, anywhere, from shower to a park to family celebrations and office breaks. Singing wakes up our soul.
Yoko Ono, in her brilliant book Acorn imagines it like this:
Life Piece III
“Imagine all the people singing one day of the year.
a) lawyers will argue in court by singing
b) politicians will make their speeches by singing
c) teachers will lecture by singing
d) soldiers of both camps will sing to each other.
This year, let’s sing, a lot.
PREPENT: Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie’s annual journey to the new year, with 40 ways in 40 days to reflect, refocus, recharge and restart life. This year features daily love letters inspired by Lab/Shul’s theme for the High Holy Days, “וְאָהַבְתָּ re:love.”
This story "Prepent Day 34+35: Unplug and Sing Out Strong" was written by Amichai Lau-Lavie.