The following is a summary of some of the thoughts said by Rabbi Frand in his teshuva derasha played tonight in the NY area. Same rules as usual apply. I have attempted to summarize many of the thoughts to the best of my abilities. Any inconsistencies are the results of my transcription and should not be attributed to R' Frand.
R Frand prefaced the shiur by stating that the derasha would be unlike any conventional teshuva derasha in that it was not quoting or resolving issues in the Rambam Hilchos Teshuva or the Sha'are Teshuva. Instead he likened it to a statement by Rav Huttner who said that Teshuva does not merely mean becoming better, its about changing one's behavior. He said that he hoped that by hearing this shiur we can change our behavior.
R' Frand then introduced the shiur as being about the danger of smartphones. Not because of the content or the epidemic of smartphone use in shuls. But what smartphones are doing to our daily lives.
R' Frand hypothesized about what a person who went off to a desert island in 2000 would think when he returned in 2016. Not that the person was unaware of phones or the internet, but about the ubiquitous nature of cell phones and what they do to our daily lives.
R' Frand talked about how he and his wife would take a daily 45 minute walk during the summer. Since Baltimore is so hot and humid during the summer, they walked at the mall. Each floor takes approximately ten minutes to walk so they were able to get their walk in every day when the mall was quiet and had just opened. Except when they passed a particular store where people are lined up with a twenty five minute from the time that the store opened - the Apple store.
R' Frand said that research has shown that people check their phones every 6 minutes. There was an experiment where people were told that they would be isolated and could give themselves electro shocks if they were bored. They then had their cell phones taken away. And within seven minutes a sizable number of people shocked themselves. All because they did not have their cell phones.
R' Frand remarked that this did not begin overnight, but it did happen over a few years.
R' Frand quoted an op ed from the NY Times written by a Major who talked about the military and the Band of Brothers mentality. He wrote about the difference between his time in Iraq in 2003 and 2008. In 2003 they walked together and talked together and discussed everything. Contact with the outside world was infrequent and was mostly letters and occasional phone calls.
When he returned in 2008, Iraq was a completely different mentality. The men all had cell phones and internet access. They spent their free time in the base's internet lab, updating their Facebook walls and accounts. The men who previously were tight and together were fighting over decisions. He remarked - we went from being a band of brothers to a band of tweeters.
R' Frand said that this problem manifests in the Yeshiva world too. A mashgiach remarked that its harder to reach boys because they require instant gratification - they are all interested in their screens. He asked a boy - do you discuss your problems with your friends on Facebook. The boy responded that he was not interested in other people's problems, he just wanted to know what was going on.
R' Frand spoke of another mashgiach who said that he would take in boys from any form of background who wanted to do teshuva - as long as they did not bring their cell phones. He remarked that if they bring their phones, then he can't reach them because he can't talk to them.
R' Frand talked about speaking with a man from Manhattan who had a son and daughter in Yeshivos in Israel. The son had a good year and made close friends, the daughter did not. The boys' school banned cell phones, but the girl's school allowed them.
R' Frand noted that we are not surprised by this, because we adjust and get used to things. He quoted the Rav who called it the people's ability or middah to adjust. But this is not necessarily a good thing.
R' Frand quoted the Brisker Rav on Nitzvaim (29:16) - which talks about the repugnant avodah zarah, wood and stone and gold and silver. The Brisker Rav asked - which one was it? Was it disgusting, or wood and stone or gold and silver? He answered that initially people were repulsed and found it disgusting, but then it became tolerable like wood and stone and eventually, desirable.
R' Frand quoted a book by Professor Sherry Turkel (sp) at MIT who talked about how cell phones are destroying humanity. The cell phone takes away our ability to empathize as people text and email and don't see others face to face - making it impossible to empathize. This manifests itself in job interviews - where employers report that the post smartphone era candidates don't know how to converse in the interview.
But R' Frand posed a question near and dear to parents - how on Earth are these people going to get married? If you don't know how to talk to the other person how can you get married? The basis of marriage is communication!
R' Frand quoted the Professor who discussed the impact of smartphones on parenting. At the park, parents aren't watching their kids, they are looking at their smartphones.
R' Frand mentioned a conversation with a man from New Jersey who was taking his son to his hockey game and realized that he had left his cell phone at home. He said to the boy - "for the first time in 15 years I left my phone at home." The boy responded - "then maybe this time you will watch my game." R' Frand remarked that this event had more of an impact on the man than fifteen shmoozes.
R' Frand again quoted the Professor who stated that the most frightening aspect of the cell phone was stated by her co-worker who called the cellphone her "tiny God.". R' Frand compared this to a Gemara in Shabbos which discussed Gidon's destruction of all the avodah zarahs. The people then made tiny idols in the form of flies and kept them in their pockets and took them out to kiss and hug.
R' Frand said that we don't view the cell phone as a G-d, but we do feel enslaved to our cell phones. Perhaps we should think of this when we say the Beracha "Shelo Asani Aved" - because we need to ask ourselves - can we find a moment of peace? Or do we need to constantly check our phone and be enslaved to it..
[This reminded me how R' Meir Goldvicht used to joke that a Blackberry in Hebrew is Eved Ivri].
R' Frand said that this was why he wanted to give a shiur about this topic - because as a Jew we are a nation of modest people, a kind and giving and emphasizing people. And if cell phones make us less able to empathize and less able to understand and be compassionate, then they are destroying our spiritual DNA.
The Torah states that Hashem chose Avraham, because He knew that Avraham would give over to his children and grandchildren the Mesorah. And if we as parents are only half involved, because our children's needs are secondary to our email or text messages or other things on our cell phones, then we are failing in this role and damaging our relationships.
R' Frand quoted R' Yaakov Kaminetzky who remarked on the Gemara -- which states that Yosef refrained from being with the wife of Potiphar because he saw the image of his father in the window and said to himself - how can I do this to my father? R' Kaminetsky observed that this will only work if there is a relationship and a love between the father and son or mother and daughter.
R' Frand told a story about a man who came to Israel with nothing and became one of the greatest ba'alei batim in a shul in Petach Tikva. They asked the man how he rose to this level and how he raised children who were talmidei chachamim, even though he came after WWII with nothing.
The man explained that he had been on a kinder transport from Austria. When his father brought him to the station early in the morning, they sat in mostly silence. But when his father put him on the train he said to him in yiddish (translated) "be a good Jew". And when the train was leaving the station, the man walked along the platform and repeated again "be a good Jew." And as the train picked up speed, the man ran alongside and shouted the same phrase...until he tripped and fell and landed on his face. And from the ground, the last words he yelled to his son were "be a good Jew." The man said that these words were always in his head and that he lived that life so that he would not let his father down. But we can only do that if we have a relationship with our children.
R' Frand added that we as Jews also need to be concerned that smartphones are having an impact on our primary role - to live a meaningful and purposeful life. And while the cell phones are not a source of the problem, they are emblematic of how we trivialize things and chase the unimportant tangents.
R' Frand remarked that the difference between Esav and Yaakov was how Esav was a man of the field and Yaakov sat in the tent. The Targum explained that Esav was a Gvar Nachshiran -engaged in idle pursuits - having a good time. R' Frand said that in our day and age its Pokemon Go - where in Baltimore someone drove into a police car while chasing a non-existent character. Meanwhile, Yaakov was in the tent learning, seeking direction from Hashem. This can even be seen in their names as Esav was Asui - considering himself accomplished with no need to grow, but Yaakov was Akev - crooked and needing direction from Hashem. As the heirs of Yaakov its our job not to lose sight of what's important in life, not to be distracted.
R' Frand quoted the Chovos HaLivavos who cited a Chassid whose prayer was - Hashem save me from a life of distraction! Because being distracted causes a person to lose their direction and focus in life.
R' Frand quoted a secular quote which he said was so profound that it needed to be repeated and emphasized - "Distraction is the only thing that consoles us from our miseries, and yet in itself it is the greatest of our miseries."
R' Frand said that we have so many roles - jobs, sometimes more than one. And we are parents and we have commitments in shuls and schools - we are so all over the map and harried. But we need to be saved from our distractions.
R' Frand quoted the Ba'al Shem Tov on the words "V'avaditem Miheira" who said a chassidish vort - we need to lose our miheira - our running from thing to thing to thing.
R' Frand offered some suggestions for improvement based on this shiur:
1. Don't sleep with your cell phone nearby;
2. Don't let your children sleep with the cell phone in the room - they will spend half the night texting;
3. When learning with your children, don't have a cell phone nearby;
4. Don't allow the use of cellphones at meals;
5. Don't daven with your smartphone siddur.
On the last suggestion, R' Frand remarked that the siddur is a thousand year old and he can't understand why it is no longer en vogue. A siddur does not beep or interrupt you when you are davening. So unless you are in a location that has no siddur, why daven from a siddur.
I hope to b'n finish the summary in a post over the weekend.
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