Thoughts on the challenges of being a chossid (or trying) in a modern world.
Fellow Lubs are most welcome to read and share and comment. Chabad-haters and agitators, please find another place to troll.

Friday, 5 May 2017

The Economy, Jobs, Life Expectancy & Moshiach

In Jewish times of crisis, such as war or danger to Israel, we often think about and pray for Moshiach. I recall the Rebbe saying - perhaps during the Gulf War - that "der veld tzittered" (the world trembled with fear) and that these global events are indications that the arrival of Moshiach is imminent.

While we often look towards global geopolitical events (mostly the negative ones) and associate them with the birthpangs of the Messianic age, in the modern world, there are so many positive signs of Moshiach if only we look and take note.

I was at a sheva brochos shortly before Pesach, and a discussion turned to human life expectancy. Scientists have recently discovered the elements in DNA that cause cells to age, and how to stop this and even reverse it, and will shortly start testing this on humans. While this might seem like fantastic news, and a harbinger of the messianic prophecy בלע המות לנצח, as often happens in society the removal of one problem creates a new problem elsewhere. In this case, the problem is social: if people live forever, what would they do all day, especially after they retired and were no longer able to work?

As it happens, we don't need to wait for the advent of immortality to have to deal with this challenge - it's already happening today: technology is replacing jobs at an alarming rate. Manual tasks are being replaced by robots, and the economies of scale in huge factories mean less humans are required to deliver the same output. While countries embrace technology and automation, they are not ready for the social consequences of how people will manage all their extra leisure time.

The union movement is well away of this. Having fought years ago for the 40-hour working week (which is traditionally celebrated on May Day), they see the writing on the wall for jobs. Even when unemployment is low, there is simply not enough work to go around in many Western countries. Their solution: the 30-hour week or the 3-day weekend, Advocates suggest this will lead to more time spent with families and a more caring society.

We are blessed to live in a world of plenty. We have so much that charities are setup to take surplus food from restaurants and caterers and deliver them to people in need. Even in the Third World, poverty rates are steadily declining, and ambitious projects are underway to eradicate disease. All of this points to a future of what is called a post-scarcity economy - a society where there is plenty for everyone and minimal human labour required.

When things are bad, big thinkers dream of large scale solutions that will transform society for the better. Marxism and Communism emerged in the late 19th century as solutions to poverty and inequality. The challenge is to also think transformatively when things are going well. In the 1960s, people imagined a world where there was plenty for everyone, where money didn't exist, and man's pursuit was exploration. and they did this not from a place of need, rather in a world (and a part of the world) where the standard of living was good and getting better. I'm talking about the sci-fi classic Star Trek, One thing the show did not examine is what happens behind the scenes. If man is boldly going where no man has gone before, who is doing all the work? Who is paying for everything? This fascinating article examines this imagined world from an economic perspective.

Whether the imagined world of the future, or the world not so far in the future where the nature of work has changed completely, the social question remains: with all this extra leisure time, what will people do with it? Watch even more Netflix and Youtube?

The answer is simple, and is the the Haftorah of Achron Shel Pesach: כי מלאה הארץ דעה את יהוה כמים לים מכסים. In the future, all this 'surplus' leisure time as a result of immortality and the end of work as we know it will be for one purpose: to deepen our understanding of God and the spiritual realms.

This all came together for me at the Seudas Moshiach at the end of a wonderful Pesach program in the Gold Coast. Perhaps there's an extra significant in contemporary times to celebrating Moshiach in the final meal of eight days of festive eating and overindulgence?

While Moshiach quickly comes to mind when things are going bad, in modern times we must also look at all the good things around us and global trends that also clearly point to the imminent coming of Moshiach!

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Open Letter to the Yeshivah Community

I usually post about Yeshivah on my personal blog because the messages about governance and leadership have broader applications. This is posted on this blog because it's directed specifically at Anash and won't be shared through social media. It's not 'confidential' - just meant for a narrower audience.

This past year, 5776, has been another tough one for our community. Looking back at where things were a year ago and what we could reasonably expect to happen in the year to come, I throw my hands in the air and say "oy, vey". Every few weeks there has been another eruption or mini-scandal, more airing of our dirty laundry, more factional in-fighting than the Labor party, more meaningless communication from the trustees and/or ICOM-5 (can't remember what sequel we are on). This is the definition of a farshlepter krank.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Charidy Fatigue

Have you heard about this amazing online sensation called Charidy? You can run intensive 24-hour fundraising campaigns where donations are matched by others to 'gear up' or multiply the giving power. It's all or nothing - either they meet the target and the matching donations kick in, or ... you don't want to imagine. And you can use social media to spread the word!

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Mivtzo'im? There's an app for that!

While many Haredi and Chassidic communities continue to reject modern technologies, the Rebbe always maintained that the "ultimate purpose for which these new technologies were developed is that they be used for holy purposes". This position dated back in the 1960s, when the Rebbe pioneered broadcasting of Torah and farbrengens around the world. Melbourne people of my generation may remember the "hook ups" during the 1970s, when the shul was filled with people listening to the Rebbe's words live. I recall the elter chassidim standing, eyes closed in deep concentration, absorbing the Rebbe's message. For out-of-towners during a time when air travel was far more difficult, this was one of the few ways to stay close to the Rebbe.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Selfies and Yeshus

This site is about the challenges of being a chossid in the modern world. The advent of digital social media has changed the world and the way we engage with it (so much so that I'm writing a book about it). A changing world will always tend to clash with a conservative movement and belief system like Judaism. As Chabad chassidim, we believe all of these technological advances can be keilim to help us make the world a better place and to spread the light of Torah and chassidus. The new tools certainly can do that - however they are so powerful that they can be used both for positive and negative purposes, and can cause much good and much bad. The challenge for us becomes how to use them well, and how not to get caught up in many of the cultural ills that they enable and even foster.

Monday, 22 September 2014

New ohros and matching keilim

Someone bought me a new pair of shoes the other day. I put them on and they looked fantastic, but then I noticed that my pants looked somewhat scruffy next to the shiny new shoes. So I went out and bought some new pants. They looked great with the new shoes, but wouldn't you know it - my shirt really didn't do the new shoes and pants justice. There was only one option - to go get a new shirt.

Was this a case of the cart leading the horse? Perhaps. So what really happened here? I was actually fine with the old shoes. But getting a new pair disrupted things, and made everything else I was wearing suddenly look relatively bad. The other new items were 'required' to restore the equilibrium and consistency of my clothes.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Shavuos - returning to Echod

Some people pine for the simple life – a ‘sea-change’ from the hustle and bustle of modern living. On one hand, you might say that we are living in a ‘golden age’ for Judaism: there are many countries in the world where Jews can enjoy religious freedom of expression, there is a wealth of scholarship available in both nigleh and chassidus, and in general humankind has more leisure time than ever before. And yet, with all this opportunity before us, modern life is just so ‘full’ and busy it’s often a challenge to find the time to feed our souls.

Does it make sense to pine for an earlier time, when live was simple and Chassidim would spend hours learning or meditating before an even longer time davening? But would anyone want to live in those times, when Jews were persecuted and poverty was rife?

Monday, 14 April 2014

The power of the moment

Is it a dark conspiracy or perhaps part of some vast eternal plan that we spend weeks preparing for the physical aspect of Pesach - cleaning, cooking, running errands - to the point where we reach the Seder and are so exhausted that we can barely enjoy the experience?

How much time do we spend on the spiritual preparation? Whether it's the avoda of bedikas chometz, or learning the Haggadah so that our Seder can be more meaningful. Or do we sit back, conk out from exhaustion and wine, and attempt to pay attention as our children expound and affirm our decision to send them to good Jewish schools?

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

We *really* want Moshiach now

Slogans are all very good, but if we are bombarded by them, or just with the passage of time, they can turn into clichés that no longer serve their original purpose. Other things can happen, like they can start to mean different things to different people (e.g. insiders vs outsiders), which again cause them to be ineffective or worse.

We sing "We want Moshiach now" and put slogans on yarmulkes and elsewhere but what does it really mean? Indeed, we mention it so often in shmone esrei that most people just rush through it without thinking twice, and others need convincing that the desire for Moshiach is not exclusively Chabad's. Certainly saying something (different) about Moshiach & Geula on a regular basis can help break the rote patterns and actually get us thinking.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Beyond the Call

You just can't buy the sort of publicity that the Call of the Shofar program has received in recent weeks within the Chabad community. Many people have come up to me and asked me about it, and I've found myself having to explain what COTS is, and what LGAT is to people who otherwise would not know (or need to know) about either. But while the article itself had some useful analysis and insights into ourselves and at other groups and programs through a lens of 'cult-like markers', that is not the key issue here.

It's not about what specific external programs are or aren't kosher or suitable for us, nor about whether our mashpi'im have been unduly influenced, nor about the knee-jerk reactions of Rabbonim and others, nor about the way this issue has polarised the community and how that may continue to play out.

We need to take a deep breath (no meditation required), step back for a bit, and consider the real issue: the challenge of how we as a community deals with our mental and emotional health.