IBM, Lag B’omer, and the story of the communist teacher: No one would ever dream of surrendering our Yiddishe “hardware,” but what about the Yiddishe “software.”? An article by Rabbi Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin.
By Rabbi Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin – AlephBeisGimmel.com
Lag B’Omer is the yahrtzeit and hillula of the holy Tanna, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. In addition to his greatness in the revealed aspects of Torah, he also authored the holy Zohar, transmitting Pnimiyus Torah, the inner dimension of Torah.
As a young bochur, I participated in the “Released Time” program in New York. Once a week, on Wednesdays, Jewish public school students were allowed to take time out of their regular classes to attend a class on Yiddishkeit. I had the zechus to teach some of these classes.
Whenever I had a new group of students, I always started with a humorous story about the communist teacher who sought to disprove G-d’s existence.
“Do you see teacher’s hat?” the communist teacher asked his young students. “Da!” they all exclaimed excitedly. “Therefore, teacher has a hat,” the teacher drew the logical conclusion.
“Do you see teacher’s jacket?” he asked the class. “Yes!” they all said. “Therefore, teacher has a jacket,” the teacher noted.
Mockingly pantomiming a short but intense search around the classroom, the teacher went for the punchline. “Children! Do you see G-d?”
“No!” The class dutifully answered. All except for one clever Jewish student, Yankele. Before the teacher could draw his heretical conclusion, sweet little Yankele jumped up on his chair “Class!” he exclaimed, “Do you see teacher’s brains?”
“No!” his classmates all yelled, laughing out loud.
“Therefore, teacher has no brains!” Yankele concluded logically, to the merriment of his peers.
The story is humorous, but the point it makes is very serious. There’s more to reality than is readily apparent. There’s an unseen Creator who creates the world, there’s an unseen soul that animates the body, there’s a Pnimiyus that is the foundation of everything we see.
The truth is, the communists – and their various equivalents and counterparts through the generations – don’t really reject the idea that there is a foundational truth beneath the surface. They just want to be the ones to establish what that truth is.
In an effort to share the clarity and strength of Emunah and Bitachon with all who need it, I organize or attend various programs, give as many Shiurim and classes as I can, and engage with people directly in one-on-one discussions or by hosting them for Shabbos or Yom Tov.
I recently hosted a family for Shabbos. It was a wonderful Shabbos, filled with inspiring Davening, spirited Nigunim, and interesting conversation. Inevitably, the topic turned to emotional well-being and the solid foundations which Torah provides. This is a hot-button issue for some, who maintain that other sources and disciplines can be or should be consulted in these matters.
As usual, I was passionately making the case that Torah provides the real foundations for emotional well-being. The details of the discussion are not the focus here, beyond noting in passing that the Torah’s guidance stands in stark contrast to other approaches:
The Torah makes strong and clear moral judgments; it appeals to our clearly defined purpose in life; it shifts our center from self to Hashem; and it proudly embraces Kabolas Ol, just to name a few obvious points of difference.
As we talked, I noticed something very interesting. While at least some of my points were novel to the father of the family, he nodded in agreement as we spoke. He questioned a point here or there, but he was generally on board with the fundamentals.
The younger generation, the twenty-something-year-olds, were another story. As we spoke, I found myself rehashing and defending assertions I would never have thought necessary: the unified nature of our lives, every aspect of which is connected to and permeated with Torah; the validity and centrality of Kabolas Ol (as in Naaseh V’Nishma); the reality of Kedusha and Tumah; and so on.
It seemed like these boys were on a totally different wavelength, running totally different software.
It reminded me of a story that made headlines a long time ago.
International Business Machines, better known as IBM, used to be a household name. They were pioneers in the computer industry and dominated the market for a long time. In the 80s, personal computing was becoming affordable, and the industry experienced explosive growth, but the one to benefit the most wasn’t IBM. In fact, they lost significant ground.
The focus of IBM was on the computing machine, the hardware. When it came to the software needed for personal computing, they left it all to a different company called Microsoft (for microcomputer software). IBM conceded the ground on software to Microsoft, and as a result, Microsoft not only outdid them financially, it came to be a strong voice in dictating hardware specifications as well.
This business story demonstrates a lesson we desperately need to learn today. As Yidden, in our personal lives and in raising the next generation, we absolutely cannot concede the ground on the “software.”
Torah life demands physical actions, fulfilling the Mitzvos and Minhagim which connect us to Hashem. That’s the “hardware.” There’s also the “software” – the stiff-necked commitment to cling to Hashem, the love and awe of Hashem that lies at our core, the perceptive certainty that there’s more to the world than the physical. This software is innate to our Neshama and is brought out and fleshed out through studying the Torah and doing the Mitzvos.
It goes without saying that this “software” applies to our religious life, providing the neshama – life, emotion, and motivation – to our Mitzvos and Minhagim, to our study of Torah, and to our Avodas Hashem.
What should also go without saying – though it is becoming increasingly necessary to say – is that our Torah “software,” the truth of Torah, relates to every single aspect of life. It’s not a religious truth – it’s true insight into the nature of reality and our place and purpose within it, and there’s nothing it doesn’t apply to and change.
Our observations and perceptions of the world around us and the attitudes we bring to everything in life should be shaped by Torah. Our sense of self, our place in the world, and in society, should come from Torah. Our approach to parenting and our career aspirations, our approach to emotional well-being, and our coping strategies for upheavals in life (whether tremendous bracha or life-changing catastrophe) should all be rooted in Torah.
In short, we should see life through the clarity of Torah, because that is the hidden truth, the unseen Pnimiyus, whose reality is not diminished because it cannot be seen. It is our task to see it, internalize it, and live by it.
By revealing and drawing our attention to the Pnimiyus – the underlying truth of all reality conveyed in the inner dimension of Torah and manifested in the revealed Torah – Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught us how to unite every aspect of our life through Torah. Not by creatively applying Torah insights to other categories of our life. There are no other categories.
We understand the physical world we inhabit and the experiences we have through our Pnimiyus, our software. As Yidden, that software is provided by Torah. Torah tells us what it all means, what it’s for, and how to best make use of or confront it.
Yes, there are others who would happily provide us with different software, offering alternative models of reality, different values and attitudes, and ways to navigate choppy waters. We should unequivocally turn down their offer.
No one would ever dream of surrendering our Yiddishe “hardware,” compromising even one iota of Torah observance in action. We need to be just as vigilant against surrendering the software and learning to see ourselves or the world around us in other ways.
That would not only result in damaging our inner life and connection to Hashem, but experience has also shown that whoever provides the software ends up dictating how things will be done with the hardware.
As we celebrate Lag B’Omer, let’s learn from Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai to bring the Pnimiyus of Torah to every aspect of our lives – and also benefit from the emotional well-being, the strength, the clarity, and all the practical Brachos that come with it, greatest among them the coming of Moshiach.