For Tisha B’av: After the Hard Drive Crashed

Dear Friends:
Every zeitgeist, every paradigm, has embedded a particular understanding of how things work.  We draw upon our paradigms and emerging technologies because they effectively express what’s happening from our perspectives at a point in time.  In the following piece, Reb Zalman uses the paradigm of the computer, to talk about The State of the Jewish Mythic World.  He sends this as a meditation for Tish’ah B’av, (“How doth the city sit solitary that was full of people” – Eicha 1:1), which occurs this year on the evening of Wednesday, July 29th, 2009.  Gabbai Seth Fishman, BLOG Editor

After the Hard Drive Crashed
Meditation:  On The State Of The Jewish Mythic World
“After the Hard Drive Crashed”
 by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

My hard drive and mother board crashed. If you ever experienced such a breakdown of this “extension of your memory,” the holder of your information, you will understand what I went through as my invisible, cyber, world support became inaccessible to me.  It is a kind of computer-related depression and a grieving for the files I failed to back up, now forever lost. And as I remembered what I had lost, I set out to do whatever it would take to restore everything to the status quo ante quem so that my life would continue uninterrupted. And in these cases, we try to do just that.

Now imagine it was old DOS, or system 6 Mac that crashed, and as you pursue the restoration, you are told that a Pentium motherboard, a faster netsurfing modem, and the latest of Windows or newer Mac OS are available; that in fact, you can improve your situation by building a new, broader platform for your information base. 

Before you upgrade, you will first have to satisfy concerns about whether the new system will be able to handle the old software applications you will need to re-establish and whether the back-ups and restores will be able to help you work your backed up information back in. In other words, while you are interested in using the best you can get together at this time, your new system has to be downward compatible.

Speaking of time:  In the time dimension, after a computer crash, I am tapping into the workaholic in me, and I am devastated because of time commitments. The frustration blocks everything but frantic casting around and my desire to get it all fixed and back to where it had been.

But now, Shabbat comes and, I realize I can’t do anything about it.  So for the next 48 hours, I must make a shift.  As I get in touch with dimensions of time and beyond the market-place, work-place mentality, I suddenly become aware of this as a gestalt of my weekday calamity, and I awaken to a perspective of this situation in a larger field.

I enter into the world of the Mashal Haqadmoni / the mythic world, the Primal Myth, (cf., Rashi on Exodus 21:13),  I begin musing on Jewish History and on mythic dimensions that hold our world together and allow the sparks of kabbalistic light to illumine the field. 

Here is what arose for me:

Shvirat Hakelim / the breaking of the vessels:  God creates worlds and destroys them (cf., Zohar, Tishby, Mishnat Hazohar [Hebrew], I: 138, 150, 183-4).  The Cosmic catastrophe – the vessels are shattered – there is only chaos – Tohu – where there was before a semblance of Tikkun – order.

Mashal <-> Nimshal is the way we talk about a parable (mashal) and ways it applies to other situations (nimshal); it is a story told that contains a spark of insight and will evoke an image, a pattern, a Gestalt that becomes independent. A mashal can be lifted off the original setting – and still the dynamics inherent in the analog’s original setting can be transferred to a yet incoherent mass of data.  And when that template is placed on the Tohu, the chaos, a pattern emerges that makes for the original spark of insight to be applied to give meaning to what before was only bewildering.

So to permit a pun; the digital world of the computer has become for me a great analog, mashal <-> nimshal:

My first computer, with what was at that time an awesome amount of memory (36 K) and a cassette tape drive to save the data at 300 baud, was a revelation for me. Software had the power to take the written Torah and make it flexible – in soft “ware” as if it were, Oral Torah. The “mind” of the computer freed me from a kind of “fundamentalism” of Gutenberg’s imprimatur and the once written script, which had been the basis for the printed, written Torah.  Each time I corrected copy on that primitive word processor it looked cleaner and better than before. Not so my editing on paper that would make for a messier page with every bettering.

I wasn’t aware then, but as I reflect now, it seems that this has a parallel with the process of Tikkun Olam and renewal.

Later, came experiences with an Apple+. Now I could put in more memory and cards that could do all sorts of things I had not been able to do previously. I could now use peripherals that had been out of bounds for me.

But taking the files from my old 36 K Exidy Sorcerer was not easy. Emulation was cumbersome since the file formats were not compatible. I eventually did succeed.

Then came the new system MS DOS. Who could resist the lure of MS, i.e. Emmes / true – Dos / Law, (or Emmet Dat in sephardic pronounciation), truth and the religious law (Datiim).  I struggled with the new lingo that I found not intuitive or accessible. But once learned, it proved to be much more flexible than either the Exidy’s CPM or Apple’s PRODOS. New manipulations of text and data were now possible, as well as enhanced communication. It was akin to a “Talmudic era” of my computer life, a time of the rabbinic hegemony.  And there were things I never could do myself. I needed a Mumhah, an expert, a mevin, in short, a computer “rabbi”, to steer me through the “shoals” of the error messages.

The “Halakhah” of the software incompatibilities that froze my computer had to have their “dairy and “meat separated.”  I needed a virus detector to keep my “house Kosher,” i.e. my drive free from impurities. And every year, at least twice – before Rosh Hashanah and before Pessah, I needed to delete old obsolete files and clean up my drives.

In the most recent period, the “modern age,” I had a 386 machine with Windows 3.1. Taking the files from the past and installing them in the new environment became increasingly easier.  Then I obtained a 486, a powerbook and now  I have a Power Mac with system 7.5.  This latter was the one that crashed.

I could do so much with that machine.  Now I face a Hurban, a destruction and a rebuilding.

Yes! I will have the new system installed and more memory added.  Now the work of sifting through the backups begins, to see which of the old files are needed on the new drive and which are to be kept as backup archives, and which are no longer relevant to what comes next.

The CPM is an analog for pre-patriarchal Judaism (what we used to call paganism, Chaldean, Egyptian and Canaanite religion).

With Abraham and Moses we got to Apple+PRODOS. Many programs that worked before were now unuseable, akin to injunctions that we were not to do the deeds of the land of Egypt which we were leaving nor the ways of the land of Canaan which we were about to enter (cf, Leviticus 18:3); they were incompatible with this new machine.

Between the destruction of the first Temple and that of the second, it was as if the old Sadducean PRODOS and Pharisaic MS DOS were waging a Kulturkampf for controlling the shared and common standard.

Christianity and Islam, – Amiga and Atari – two systems that tried to gain ground in Judaism did not make it for us.

In the “rabbinic period” we stayed with MS DOS on our PC clones, added “Gaonic enhancements,” i.e., Data Base managers like the Shulhan Arukh, theological spreadsheets to Guide the Perplexed, Midrashic Word processors, capable of making a variety of PARDES formats.

And Apple introduced Lisa and the MacIntosh, with its Graphic interface. Now between what you see and what you get there was no longer a chasm. Things were made user friendly. This is how I see the Baal Shem Tov and Hassidism. Even the Mitnagdim, who opposed Hassidism claiming that the latter’s new way was an unlawful deviation from the Emmes Das (MS DOS) standard sought to have Windows that would open their platforms to a graphic interface.

Windows 3.1 could be patched on to MS DOS and that still was Kosher. This is akin to how Orthodoxy has managed to claim that it was making only an update / a hiddush and not a change / a shinnui. And look what riches it has produced!  ArtScroll alone has given us access in English to immense treasures from the past.

Alas, in the Holocaust, I see the crashing of our hard drive.

Since that time we have all been frantically rebuilding the old files. Some are insisting that we restore our system to the standard of the old pre-holocaust motherboard.  Others are willing to update as long as they maintain at least the semblance of still using the EmmesDos.

In Jewish Renewal we have opted for the RISC processor, (RISC – Reduced Instruction Set Computer) and a more intuitive and user friendly interface, one that is graphic and allows for right brain lateral and fuzzy thinking; a system that gives you fewer error messages.

And now I face the rebuilt and enhanced computer and have to load back the files I want on it.

After the breaking of the vessels I have to sift in the rubble of “backup disks” for the “applications” I want to re-install and which I will forego. I need to decide which of the old “text files” will be of use to me. I need to make a Birrur Hanitzotzot, a sorting of the sparks and releasing them from their qlippot, their shells. I have to keep my “virus alert” on to keep from contaminating the new drive. Oy, how will I get all the “lost addresses” back and the “e-mail contacts”. I have to start some things from scratch.

Somewhere in the future still waits a global standard UNIX, (Mashiach-zeit).  On that day the peaceable Kingdom will have arrived, all sharing one standard for global communication and compatibility.

Amen, ken y’hi Ratzon

Good Shabbos

4 Responses to “For Tisha B’av: After the Hard Drive Crashed”

  1. André Says:

    Wow! this is one of the most amazing pieces of writing i’ve ever read about judaism. Such a wonderful way to approach this multi-faceted dazzling field and to unlock its sweetness to contemporary readers!

    thank you

  2. Gloria Krasno Says:

    So wonderful to re-read this message/ this paradigm/just after tonight’s Eicha service. My own little e-machine, in the crazy-making mode, prepared me for Tisha b’Av, having lost a whole night’s sleep chatting with the tech-mavin-supreme, with resulting further distress!
    Holy computer!
    Already exhausted/ frustrated/ almost hopeless, the night’s readings brought real tears to my eyes, errors/ losses/ foolishness to be deleted.
    Now I can go to bed without the midnight snack, but with a smile and the consolation of your companionship on the computer hard drive.
    Many thanks and blessings, Gal-or-Ya

  3. Simcha Daniel Burstyn Says:

    Seth – do you have an original date for this essay? I’m translating it to teach for the Shloshim, nebbuch, and it seems so dated, and so vibrant, too.
    Simcha Daniel

  4. Gabbai Seth Fishman (Blog Editor) Says:

    Shalom R Simcha Daniel:
    When he sent it to me in 2009 I remember that this was not the first time I had seen it but I really don’t know where; perhaps it was in “The New Menorah”. (I checked and it’s not in “Fragments of a Future Scroll” and it’s not in “Paradigm Shift”).

    There’s no information about when it was written, but if we look at the technologies he covers, we can make a guess.

    Yaasher Koach in translating it. I am sending you the original he sent me (before my edits) in e-mail.


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