Rabbi Moshe Weinbeger, of Congregation AishKodesh in Woodmere, NY recently gave shiur on an essay of Rav Kook’s titled “Al pnimiushaTorah” and spent a few minutes discussing the issue of the internet and filters. One of the many things that Rav Weinberger mentioned which I found to be meaningful was that while filters are extremely important in addressing the information we can access on the internet, filters do not address the person who is using the internet. You can have, in his words, the biggest filter in the world for the internet, but if a person has a tayvah (urge) for something, using a filter will not change that urge. He offers the example of someone hiding the candy jar at home. If an adult hides it, then the child and the adult will still have that desire for the candy. Rabbi Weinberger’s view is that have to address the person, not just the use of the internet and start educating people from an early age about the pneminus (inner essence) of the person, of the innate Kedushah (holiness) the each of us possess and the greatness within.
Rav Weinberger says in the shiur, “People would like to install Yiras Shamayim. You can’t do that, you can’t install Yiras Shamayaim, that’s the only problem. You can install a filter, but the person is the same person sitting down to the computer.” When dealing with a computer and a web browser, we can install a filter. A person needs to change his behavior.
My own take on what I heard from his shiur was that there needs to be more of a focus on the positive within the person. I have to upgrade myself and how I think and a feel as a Torah Jew and how I relate to Hashem. I have to focus on the greatness within, which is what the concept of Gadlus Ha’Adam is all about. I have to find the greatness within myself (this idea can be found in both Chassidic and Mussar writings). Changing how I see myself is only part of the upgrade. It is probably just as important, in my mind, how I see others. When speaking with my children, do I focus on the negative or accentuate the positive? Do I try to reveal and teach my children about the greatness within themselves? Do I view my wife as a neshamah or a person? It’s way easier to write these questions than have to actually address them in real non-electronic life.
I believe that Rav Weinberger is correct, we all want that magical quick-fix, we want the Yiras Shamayim app installed and not have to put in the effort to grow. Anyone who is growth-oriented knows that isn’t how it works. RavY itzchok Blazer (one of the main disciples of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter) writes that Yiras Shamayim encompasses the worry and discontent that that one feels, “lest he transgress and not fulfill one of the Divine commandments or not perform the mitzvah according to specification” (Kochvei Ohr 8, from Rabbi Zvi Miller’s translation). We have to understand the gift and responsibility of being created by Hashem and, while filters are great for helping us steer clear of problematic territory, we really have to work diligently and change who we are and how we think.