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August 13, 2013
Most Jews, be they secular or devout, practicing or not, can agree that we have enough rules. We have 613 commandments, for crying out loud. Actually, I scanned the list and crying out loud has no associated commandments, but practically everything else does. “Shalts” and “shalt nots” for dressing, eating, praying, relating. Everything from criminal justice to dermatitis is covered.
We have rabbinic wisdom and traditions that have expanded above and beyond following commandments. Somehow not boiling a kid in its mother’s milk (commanded) has turned into leaving butter and cheese out of the turkey tetrazzini you bring to the Sabbath dinner potluck. Someday, I want to see a rabbi try to milk a turkey. Preferably after his fourth glass of Passover wine.
The point is, we probably have enough ancient wisdom to follow without adding modern rules, but I am proposing one more for Yom Kippur. On this Day of Atonement there are five traditional No-Nos. Per Wikipedia – my source of Talmudic wisdom whenever my favorite rebbe is taking a lunch break, they are:
I would like to add a sixth thing to this list: Unplug.
Yes, everything. Including the phone.
I’m a reasonable person. It can be in your purse or glove compartment to turn back on in case of emergency. But unless your tire blows out on the way to synagogue or a passenger goes into labor, keep it turned off. Not silenced. Not set to vibrate. Off.
Yom Kippur is a day to reflect on your soul. You do not need to know what Groupons have become available. You do not need to know who else liked your picture or what George Takei is thinking. You can catch up on all of that tomorrow. Provided you are inscribed in the Book of Life for another day. Today, it’s time to pray.
Stock prices, sports scores, temperatures, recipes and shark attacks can all wait a day. You don’t need those for reflection or atonement.
If you must, spend the day before Yom Kippur setting up brief messages on your voicemail, email and frontal lobe microchip, alerting the public that you will not be responding to them the nanosecond after they send you a message. Then take a deep breath and turn it all off. The earth will continue to rotate.
On this holiest of holy days, you have no appointments, nor are you making future ones. Your music will be cantorial, your commentary rabbinic. Your cloud is on the bimah. You will remain Tweetless, bumpless and pokeless, while sharing in the old fashioned sense of the word.
Look the stranger next to you in the eye and smile. Maybe even nod and greet them. They will not follow you tomorrow. They will not detect your address and judge your house/neighborhood/traffic patterns. They may even smile back at you without knowing your job title, alma mater or potential for providing future employment and/or purchases. You might find yourself liking them, even though no computer program suggested you might. Or if they ignored No-No Number Four, you can shuffle off to another pew without officially unliking them.
During breaks between services you can have conversations that are uninterrupted by darting eyes and tapping fingers. You can listen to and convey complete thoughts—sentences, even. You can glance around the room during lulls and see if you need to welcome a stranger, assist an elder, guide a child away from a potential disaster. Charity toward others comes in many forms.
You can drive home paying complete attention to traffic signals, the car in front of you, pedestrians. Maybe even roll down the window for a breath of fresh late summer air.
I would dare suggest prolonging the techno silence into your post-Yom Kippur breaking of the fast. Concentrate on enjoying the food, the company. Your friends don’t need to see a picture of Aunt Irene’s faux chopped liver. It wasn’t really funny last year, either, by the way. (You may not have noticed—Aunt Irene unfriended you and posted some particularly embarrassing photos from your childhood that you’ll need to forgive her for before sundown.)
I think you’ll find your day has been more serene, your reflections more intense and your anxiety reduced from spending the day with less interruption. You’ll look forward to unplugging again one day. Maybe even set aside one day a week for unplugging and relaxing. I think there may even be a commandment about that too.