Texting on Shabbos
Jewish Press 2018
Recently, I witnessed a child from a frum family texting on shabbos. “What's the big deal? It’s just a quick text,” he explained. When I came home, I asked my kids, all students of Modern Orthodox Day schools, if they knew if kids from frum homes texted on shabbos. Incredulously, they explained, “Dad where've you been? I was at a Pesach program and at least 30% of the kids were openly on their phones during Yom Tov and shabbos. And their parents knew!"
On a recent shabbaton, a Rav mentioned to me that he saw many kids texting on shabbos. I asked him how this could possibly be going on and his response was nerve-wracking. “Avi, kids today are different than they were in our day. In our day, we could argue, get in trouble, and talk it out, but today, something far more dangerous lurks beneath: apathy. They simply don't care.”
The next shabbos in shul, I started a dialogue with a fine, modern frum man, and I mentioned how I'm not sure that parents realize that many kids are texting on shabbos. He lightheartedly shrugged his shoulders and said “Hey what are you gonna do?” I responded by saying, “It’s an epidemic. Wouldn't you be devastated if your kid was breaking shabbos?” But he just smiled and asked me “when did you get so frum?”
Now I was the one left standing speechless? Me, hardcore frum? Over the next few weeks, I started speaking with kids and parents, and the conclusion was the same. They did not realize the severity of a “small text.”
To start off, we have to really appreciate that if Hashem mentions twice in his holy Torah “Keep and safeguard my Shabbos,” this must be important stuff here. And when he explains in detail all of the prohibitions regarding it, as well as the severe punishment for violating it, well, you know this is a biggie in the eyes of God. After all, how can we even consider violating the Sabbath when God created it for the very purpose of abstaining from work? Further, God himself kept the Sabbath; He rested and so too, we rest. And when Hashem tells us that this day itself is so holy that tefilin are not even needed, and that even a double portion of the heavenly mon would fall for shabbos, we once again appreciate the seriousness of this commandment.
So why is a little text so bad?
Back in the day, my old science teacher explained how as a child, he remembered seeing X-ray machines at shoe stores, so you could know exactly where your toes and heel were, ensuring a perfect fit. Everyone was thrilled until one day they realized that people were dying from overexposure to radiation, even though, at the time, no-one knew it. The same is true regarding smoking. Prior to the 1970s' , smoking was seen as cool and classy and it was rare to see a movie star without one. Only years later did they all come to realize the harmful deadly effects of smoking. Although they were having fun and enjoying the cigarette at the time, it did not change the damage they were doing, even though it may have seemed like no big deal. The same is true with violating the shabbos. Like the cigarettes, whenever we violate the shabbos, we are causing damage to our souls, even if we don't see it at moment, because like cigarettes, it takes years for the tar and nicotine to actualize its damage.
Yet there's another dimension. Shabbos, like many of the mitzvot, involves a separation. We declare after shabbos, " between the holy and weekday." When we eat kosher, we are separating meat and dairy. On Pesach, we separate the chametz from our lives. We separate the wool from the linen. We choose to marry a Jew, rather than a non-Jew. Why is separation such an integral theme in the Torah? Because we are HOLY and by that very definition, we have to separate ourselves, so to speak, from certain things to keep us holy and to further reinforce our Rason D Etere, or purpose for being here. We must draw a line in the sand and declare: this is right and this is wrong. There cannot be a blend, because that could dilute and weaken Gods original intent. When lines are not clearly drawn, it allows Bruce Jenner to become Caitlyn (but still identify as a man on Thursdays). It allows Arafat, Yimach Shmo, to assassinate hundreds, if not thousands, all the while earning a Nobel Peace Prize. Or the Reform temple in my neighborhood that had a non kosher catered kiddush on – wait for it – Yom Kippur. (God please forgive them.)
This is why texting is such a big deal. Because once the lines become blurred, our mission becomes clouded. The fact that we separate makes us holy and allows John Adams, our second US President to proudly declare " I will insist that the Hebrew has done more to civilize men than any other nation." So when the nations were into sacrificing children, the Jew said No! When the world wasn't giving charity, The Torah Jew comes along and gives 10% of his earnings to charity. And when the world’s farmers are calculating their profits every day, the Israeli Jew leaves his fields once every 7 years, happily relying on gods guarantee that he will not only endure, but prosper as well.
Perhaps the easiest way to illustrate the dangerous effects of texting on shabbos is by a by the Dubno of Magid. He explained, “Many years ago, a petty thief was once entering a shul for the purpose of stealing something inconspicuous and small, so as not to arouse suspicion. After seeing the inside of the shul, he realized that the chandeliers, the candelabras, and the silver and gold inlays, would all be immediately noticed if they went missing. Se he went upstairs into a dark attic and started feeling around for anything he could sell, if only to earn a few rubels for a meal. Lo and behold, he came across a large solid steel screw, certainly worth something. He got his old wrench and started twisting when suddenly, when he removed it, he heard a loud crash. He ran out, realizing that the little screw he was holding, was really holding up the fancy gold and crystal chandelier.
This is EXACTLY what happens when we text on shabbos or turn on a light. We think its no big deal, but in reality, the "small text" is much like “the small screw” that is attached to something much larger. And it isn't just our own observance that gets affected. How many people tell me “We weren't too strict about lights on Shabbos and now my kid uses his phone all the time. At the time, I guess I didn't realize what a big deal it was.” But like the X-ray machine and cigarettes, that seemed harmless and even beneficial, they were actually causing irreparable damage.
A “little shabbos text" is actually a very big deal, akin to the screw attached to something far greater: our Creator in Heaven.