Thursday, October 06, 2011

Steve Jobs death, how should it affect our יום כיפור?

I don't claim to know why Steve Jobs died and why he died now. However, the time of his death does give us an opportunity to learn a powerful lesson for Yom Kippur.

Steve Jobs death should be a lesson that Hashem is ultimately in control. Steve Jobs was a billionaire who changed the world, yet he died at the age of 56, all of his money and brilliance could not save him. All of the technological progress, all of his money could not stop his death at a relatively young age. Hopefully his death inspires us to realize that רבות מחשבות בלב איש but ultimately עצת ה' היא תקום. We need to realize that as much as we think we control events, we don't, and that our fate for the next year is being decided on Yom Kippur.

Unfortunately this is not an easy thing to do. Over the last hundred years there has been so much technological progress that we have lost our connection and fear of Hashem. We get sick and we go to the doctor and we believe that he cures us. The temperature outside is 100 degrees, we turn on the AC and sit comfortably in our chairs. Night falls and we turn on the lights, and the list goes on. Life expectancy in the Western world has gone from 36 in 1800, to 52 in 1900, to 78 in 2000. Our standard of living is unimaginably higher then even the King of England 200 years ago. This leads to a feeling of hubris and a feeling that we are in control of our lives. We have gained a lot from the technological advancement but we have also lost a lot. We no longer have a real connection to Hashem in our everyday lives. We feel that we are in control not Hashem.

Dr. Chaim Soloveitchik describes this phenomenon better then I can in his essay Rupture and Reconstruction.
In 1959, I came to Israel before the High Holidays. ... The prayer there was long, intense, and uplifting, certainly far more powerful than anything I had previously experienced. And yet, there was something missing, something that I had experienced before, something, perhaps, I had taken for granted. Upon reflection, I realized that there was introspection, self-ascent, even moments of self-transcendence, but there was no fear in the thronged student body, most of whom were Israeli born. Nor was that experience a solitary one. ... I have yet to find that fear present, to any significant degree, among the native born in either circle. The ten-day period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are now Holy Days, but they are not Yamim Noraim—Days of Awe or, more accurately Days of Dread –as they have been traditionally called.

I grew up in a Jewishly non-observant community, and prayed in a synagogue where most of the older congregants neither observed the Sabbath nor even ate kosher. They all hailed from Eastern Europe, largely from shtetlach, like Shepetovka and Shnipishok. Most of their religious observance, however, had been washed away in the sea-change, and the little left had further eroded in the "new country." ... Yet, at the closing service of Yom Kippur, the Ne'ilah, the synagogue filled and a hush set in upon the crowd. The tension was palpable and tears were shed.

What had been instilled in these people in their earliest childhood, and which they never quite shook off, was that every person was judged on Yom Kippur, and, as the sun was setting, the final decision was being rendered (in the words of the famous prayer) "who for life, who for death, / who for tranquility, who for unrest." These people did not cry from religiosity but from self- interest, from an instinctive fear for their lives. Their tears were courtroom tears, with whatever degree of sincerity such tears have. What was absent among the thronged students in Bnei Brak and in their contemporary services and, lest I be thought to be exempting myself from this assessment, absent in my own religious life too- was that primal fear of Divine judgment, simple and direct.

I hope that Steve Jobs death can inspire us to recapture some of that primal fear of Divine judgment, simple and direct this Yom Kippur.

1 comment:

David Bar-Cohn said...

Good point. For me it is also humbling in the sense that he managed to accomplish so much in his relatively short life - including what must have been vast amounts of money donated to worthy causes.

Fred Shuttlesworth, a noted civil rights hero, also died today - a totally different example of profound contribution.

Important reminders that we need to aim higher and do more with our remaining days to help improve people's lives, make the world slightly better than it was when we entered it.