OU Torah Insights ProjectRosh Hashanah
The simplicity of computer code presents a philosophical bombshell: Ones and zeros. Something and nothing. An accurate representation of life itselfa huge computer program that boils down to a collection of something and nothing.
Practically, this synthesis provides us with a useful framework to better understand our natureour own codeand how we can reprogram it to better ourselves for the coming year.
On Rosh Hashanah all of us want to be better Jews, to increase our observance and to minimize our sins. We are in the mood to change. Yet for many of us even the changes we do manage to implement come undone by November or December. Whats a responsible Jew to do?
Rav Chaim Friedlander, zt"l, the Ponovizher mashgiach, addresses this predicament in his sefer, Sifsei Chaim.
"Teshuvah," he writes, "is not simply a resolution not to fail again.... A person should not mislead himself that Yesterday and the day before I was not in order, but from now on I will be in orderfor he has failed many times. And why suddenly will he not fail again? If he shuts his eyes to this, he will surely not succeed, G-d forbid."
Rav Friedlander goes on to explain that change is about carving out a different path.
Teshuvah cannot be simply intellectualized or emotionalized. Otherwise it remains this vague, ephemeral notionit isnt real. We must make it real. And we can do so only with tangible, structural changes. We too quickly comfort ourselves with grand thoughts but no immediate, tangible action.
This is the lesson of the ones and the zeros. This is our Y2K problem. We must reprogram the hard drive; otherwise the system will fail again and again. It will continue to crash as it always has.
How does one reprogram the system? By changing the zeros to ones. By taking real steps to add value where it was previously missing.
It is not enough to say, "I will learn more." Instead, pick up the phone, call a friend and agree to meet at the synagogue fifteen minutes before services to study. Now you have a time a place and a partner. Not an idea. A reality.
It is not enough to say, "I must pray better." Go out and buy an ArtScroll siddur and open your eyes to the English while you read the Hebrew, so that you understand the words you are saying during prayer.
The level at which we make these changes is not as important as insuring that some changes are made. The goal is not to go from zero to sixtyjust from zero to one. We must take the empty pieces of our lives and fill them with something.
With Rosh Hashanah upon us, we are getting a jumpstart on the Y2K hoopla. Let us not simply rededicate ourselves but reprogram ourselves to take seriously our mission, to do the necessary small things that elevate the zeros to ones, and to become the Holy Nation that G-d expects us to become and that we are assuredly capable of becoming.
Srully Epstein, associate editor of Torah Insights, is author of the forthcoming Judaism 101: An Introduction to the Worlds First Religion.