Filters and Upgrades

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.

17 comments on “Filters and Upgrades

  1. You should very careful in quoting Rav Avigdor Miller, zatzal, in a public forum. Rav Miller zatzal pulled no punches: he could be blunt and impolite and definitely politically incorrect when it was needed, usually after the tape recorders had shut off or in an “off-the-record” personal discussion with his own people or Yeshivaleit.

  2. RBMiller: I’m not saying that Jews and non-Jews are of the same qedushah. But using “lower than a goy”, using a comparison to a non-Jew as an insult, is an attitude I can’t agree with. Even if R’ Avigdor Miller really thought that way.

  3. Rabbi Avigdor Miller also taught at one of his public lectures (exact quote):

    “Any yeshivah man who smokes cigarettes is a behemah.”

  4. Micha, isn’t there some concept that we can rise higher but also sink lower than the others?

  5. I have serious problems picturing the effectiveness of a priest who puts down his flock. We are a “mamlekhes kohanim vegoy qadosh — a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”. How can someone use “lower than a goy” as an insult with which to motivate his talmidim?

  6. Most Rabbis who prohibit the internet continue to permit smoking cigarettes, which eventually kill 50% of the people who smoke them.

    Rabbi Avigdor Miller taught at one of his public lectures:
    “Any yeshivah man who smokes cigarettes is lower than a goy.” (exact quote)

  7. I heard the shiur (recorded) and I heard R’ Weinberger as denigrating quick-fix mentality, not filters. He said that computer filtering is necessary because the real solution takes time and work, and one always has more room for growth — the internal “filter” will never reach Divine Perfection. But that doesn’t mean that filtering is the ends, it’s just the means.

    The Alter of Novhardok is quoted as saying something similar: “Man wants to achieve greatness overnight, and he wants to sleep well that night too.”

    And R’ JB Soloveitchik has an oft-quoted variant on this theme: “The problem with American Jews is that they don’t want to daven, they want to have davened.”

    As for the definition of yir’ah that Reb Neil gives us from R’ Itzele Petersburger, it’s said earlier in Mesilas Yesharim (ch. 24): “At the outset it should be stated that there are two types of fear, which resolve themselves into three types. The first type is very easy to attain; there is nothing easier. The second is the most difficult of attainment, and perfection in it is, accordingly, of a very high order. The first type is fear of punishment and the second, fear of Divine Majesty, of which fear of sin is a part….

    “The second type of fear, fear of Divine Majesty, consists in one’s withdrawing himself and abstaining from sin because of the great honor of the Blessed One. For how can a lowly, despicable heart of flesh and blood permit and abide the doing of what is opposed to the will of the Creator of blessed and exalted Name? This type of fear is not very easily attained, for it is born only of the knowledge and intelligence which go into reflection upon the majesty of the Blessed One and the lowliness of man…. This is the extremely worthy type of fear in which the great Saints distinguished themselves. As stated by Moses (Deuteronomy 28:58), “To fear this honored, Awesome Name, the Lord, your G-d.” (tr. R’ Shraga Silverstein, cut-n-pasted from here.)

    The goal in life, after all, has something to do with developing yir’ah. Developing software filters lacks that inherent value. We would need to develop yir’ah and “internal filters” even if the technological solution were fully effective for this one challenge. Yir’ah has inherent value.

    So how do we develop yir’ah? “Experiential programming” — it’s not learned, it’s developed through emotional experiences and through practice. Suggestions of what kinds of programming might work for different members of our community is what the past Klal Perspectives and the letters sections in the immanently arriving issue are all about. It’s a field that was tilled by people like the Besh”t, R’ Yisrael Salanter and R SR Hirsch, but has been neglected long enough that their tools have not evolved along with the reality we now face. It has become hard to figure out how to apply their advice to our very different reality and its impact on our characters. Much work has to be done.

  8. Jay,

    In brief, I spend time in my car prior to going into shul in the morning for davening. I use a few techniques to clear my mind based on the book “Jewish Meditation” by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan zt’l and think about and repeat the phrase “B’ztelem Elokeim”.

    Quieting your mind and concentrating on a single thought is pretty important for one’s kavannah in tefillah, in general. Rabbi Kaplan’s book is pretty user friendly for those like me, who don’t seem hardwired for anything “kabbalistic”. I might sound “new age”, but even the first paragraph prior to making a bracha on tefillin was compiled to help get us into the right mindset.

    I’ve been using practices from Rabbi Kaplan’s book for almost 25 years on and off (more off than on). Nightly, I do a cheshbon hanefesh (both by writing down successes and challenges of the day and also menatally reviewing those items and my interactions with others).

    In terms of growth in avodah, I’d say that I am much more conscious of both my mitzvah performance and the fact that I, like all of us, have a directly active relationship with Hashem.

    The difference between davening mincha and davening mincha to Hashem is a fine line and it’s way too easy for me to blur it.

    Learning to quiet your mind is

  9. I think Shades of Grey pretty much summed it up.
    Filters are key, but to elaborate, if you think that a filter is going to stop a person who wants to see inappropriate things online, then you’re kidding yourself. We need to have a solution that reaches the neshama. That is what Rav Weinberger, in my opinion, is getting at.

    For some it’s learning halacha, chassidus, or mussar. For others, it could be involvement in chessed..

  10. I only read Neil’s piece above and didn’t hear the actual shiur, but I thought of the safeguard/personal growth balance to be something like this: we have certain safeguards against improper behavior as part of the Torah system, I will use yichud as an example.

    We’re required to observe the laws of yichud. But if a person would be careful about the laws of yichud but spend all his time drooling over his secretary/neighhbor/whoever then he may not come to act improperly but the problem with his situation is obvious whether he acts on it or not. On the other hand, even if a person has developed great self-control, he still has to observe the laws of yichud. Same thing with filters –if a person has the best most high-tech filters that cannot be tripped up but wishes he didn’t there is a major problem. But he still should have filters.

  11. “I think most Rabbis would agree we need both, so I’m not sure what Rabbi Weinberger was trying to achieve in the shiur.”

    R. Weinberger said clearly in the shiur one needs both; as far as why he “mocked”(demphasized?) filters to make his point that the other half(ie, pnimiyus) needs emphasis, I can’t speak for him(in his article he wrote, “it is quite obvious that technology creates a serious threat to all that we’ve worked so hard to achieve, and we must support every effort to combat this malady”).

    IIRC, in the shiur he similarly spoke of people who simplistically take out of a shalom bayis shiur “buy flowers for your wife and all will be well”, as well young American girls who are told they will suffer horribly for not dressing appropriately. He doesn’t belive either of these approaches lead to lasting inner growth.

    Perhaps R. Weinberger feels that the concept of inner growth is going to get lost in the public awareness about filters, since there is a history of some people not acheiving inner growth, as he describes.

  12. Leaving aside peer pressure and the power of media buzz and advertising for now—

    To what degree are children now drawn to electronic communications of dubious spiritual value because:

    1. Parents are too busy working or learning to relate much to their kids?

    2. Parents and teachers don’t build up the kids’ spiritual self-esteem or even their own?

  13. Neil, I listened to that shiur a few times, and although Rabbi Weinberger stated that he thought filters were important, he mocked the concept of filters many times in the shiur. I also felt that he made it seem that achieving Yiras Shmayim was a relatively easy thing, when I know that he can’t possibly believe that.

    A filter is a geder, a gate, and each individual needs to install the appropriate gates. Chazal never said gederim where the end of the story, but they’re certainly the beginning. So, I’m also confused about Rabbi Weinberger’s mocking of filters.

    Even gedolim, like the Chofetz Chaim, who I’m assuming had some degree of Yiras Shmayim, made gedarim regarding looking at women. The story was told by R’ Dovid Leibowitz that the maid once came in with short sleeves and the Chofetz Chaim remarked, “What does she think we are – melachim (beings with no physical components)?”

    I think most Rabbis would agree we need both, so I’m not sure what Rabbi Weinberger was trying to achieve in the shiur. Perhaps that filters are not enough, but I think that’s pretty obvious to most thinking people.

  14. I agree, it can help, but I would guess that it’s a combination of a) filters that make access more difficult and b) you are the type of person who gets something simple and real out of 10-20 minutes of meditation. For many, that is really just an esoteric exercise that does not equip them with the tools needed to balance out the yetzer that speaks to them on a more simple level.

    Perhaps it would help if you could share what you do in those 10-20 minutes per day? Where do you do it? When? How do you manage not bore yourself to death? How long have you been doing this and have you experienced any signs of growth from this avoda? And practically, how do you manage to squeeze in 10-20 minutes per day for this?

  15. Jay,
    D/R Abraham J Twerski often writes about the addict that doesn’t realize he is putting garbage into his body. Someone with a proper few of himself wouldn’t eat garbage.

    I use filters on our computer at home and on my smartphone. Working on gadlus ha-adam needs to be a constant thing. Personally, I spend 10-23 minutes every morning meditating on this concept. It isn’t a cure-all, but for me it helps.

  16. One cannot inherit or be taught to have yirat shamayim. It can only come from within after the growth and learning that comes with life experience and the example set by humble, sensitive and capable parents, rabbis, teachers and community leaders.

  17. Your own take is nice in theory, but it does not work. You can’t fight simple, pashut teivas with “gadlus ha-adam” or some majestic vision of grandeur. Anyone who thinks about this for a minute knows that it’s too simple to be true. You likewise can’t fight alcohol addiction with “gadlus ha-adam”, the quick fix of a drink is too easy, it’s on a different level. Gadlus ha-adam may be a small part of the 12-step program, but it’s not going to address the problem by itself.

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