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Computer Contemplations

by Rabbi Moshe Y. Wisnefsky


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The Ba'al Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement, taught that a Jew can learn something about his relationship with G-d from everything he experiences. The logic behind this is straightforward: If G-d masterminds and controls everything that happens, this surely includes matching up all the occurrences of life with the people who go through them. And furthermore, since "G-d does nothing for naught",1 the reason why He presents a person with a particular situation must be so that the person can learn something from it that will be to his spiritual benefit.

Such should be any Jew's thoughts when confronted with something new, and such were mine when I started using a personal computer quite a few years ago. "What can I learn from this machine about my spiritual life?" I wondered. The associations were not long in coming.

Although computers are dumb, they learn very quickly, and the first thing they do while warming up is measure their IQ (available "memory" or RAM)--to take a quick stock of their potential. Similarly, upon awakening in the morning, a Jew reminds himself of who he is and how he is going to operate that day. This he does by saying Modeh Ani, the short statement recited immediately upon becoming conscious in the morning: "I gratefully acknowledge, living and eternal King, that You have mercifully restored my soul to me, as an expression of Your great trustworthiness." The powerful spiritual potential of his soul enables each Jew to have a meaningful positive day if he uses it properly.

The next thing the computer does is "load" the Disk Operating System (DOS) into its active memory. This is what gives the computer the ability to perform certain basic functions and to eventually run any other program or software. This corresponds to the morning prayers. It is here that the Jew consciously connects to G-d and establishes a spiritual base that will enable him to relate to all his various activities (=programs) that day in terms of his Jewishness.

The state of control that the Jew is expected to possess over the consciousness-confusing bombardments of his environment is called da'at, ("integrated awareness"), which in Ashkenazic pronunciation is daas, very similar to "DOS."

Once DOS is loaded, the computer is ready to execute specific programs, whatever they might be (word processing, accounting, graphics, games, etc.). So too, although all Jews pray the same Morning Service, each one draws the specific potential he needs to fulfill his own individual task properly, whatever that might be (businessman, parent, student, farmer, etc.)

When control is lost over a program, it is possible to reload the operating system without turning off the computer (this is called a "warm boot"). Similarly, by late afternoon, the spiritual consciousness acquired in the morning prayers has worn off somewhat and the average person is ready for a booster shot. This is the short Mincha-Maariv (Afternoon-Evening) prayers.

Mincha and Maariv are much shorter than Shacharit, the morning prayer; the assumption is that we haven't totally lost our G-d-consciousness - become unplugged! - during the course of the day. A person who consciously attempts to keep his Divine perspective focused will find it much easier to Daven a good Mincha and Maariv than someone who has released his daas (DOS) during the course of the day.

Other operating systems (such as Windows) allow you to perform DOS operations without even leaving the currently resident software programs. This corresponds to what the Ba'al Shem Tov called being "in-velt-ois-velt" ["in the world, out of the world"]: involved in the physical world while simultaneously sustaining intense G-d-consciousness [deveikut].


  • 1. Talmud Brachot 31a.


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(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Jewish Law. All halachah which is applicable today is found in the Code of Jewish Law.
Afternoon prayer service. One of the three prayers a Jew is obligated to pray every day.
Black leather boxes containing small scrolls with passages of the Bible written on them. Every day, aside for Sabbath and Jewish holidays, the adult Jewish male is required to wrap the Tefillin--by means of black leather straps--around the weaker arm and atop the forehead.
Plural form of Mitzvah. Commandments of G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
(Pl.: Chassidim; Adj.: Chassidic) A follower of the teachings of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), the founder of "Chassidut." Chassidut emphasizes serving G-d with sincerity and joy, and the importance of connecting to a Rebbe (saintly mentor).
Morning prayer service. One of the three prayers a Jew is obligated to pray every day.
Evening prayer service. One of the three prayers a Jew is obligated to pray every day.
(Yiddish) Pray.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.