Can The Torah Tell Us How to Better Use Our Smartphones?


The Torah gives us a comprehensive and meticulous description of the vestments which the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest of Israel, had to wear when ministering in the Jerusalem Temple. These holy garments were intended to give "dignity and beauty" (Exodus 28:2) to the serving High Priest, the spiritual leader of the people of Israel. One of the four special garments was a holy crown of solid gold, known as the tziytz, engraved with Hebrew letters that spelled out, "Dedicated to God," which was worn on the Kohen's forehead.

The tziytz constantly reminded the Kohen (priest) that he had to remain dedicated to God and that he was serving the whole community not only himself.

Rabbi Yehuda teaches us in the Talmud (Yoma 7b) that the tziytz had transformative power, it could turn impure to pure. If an Israelite would bring an offer to the Temple and the given animal would be found to be impure, then the tziytz had the power to forgive the sacrifice's impurity and the animal would be accepted. However, this would only work if the Kohen Gadol (the high priest) was wearing the tziytz at that very moment, if the Kohen was off-duty, taking a nap, for example, and he had taken off the tziytz, then the sacrifice would be rejected.

This illustrates the power of awareness, concentration, and focus. The Kohen could shape reality by concentrating on his true purpose. Nevertheless, he could continue to deal with mundane activities such as taking his kids to school or chatting with his wife but he remained constantly aware that these activities were all connected to his life purpose and not merely mundane activities. Building deep relationships with his loved ones was part of his total dedication to God. This real time connection had practical effects, it could transform an objectively impure sacrifice into a pure one.

In our days, the smartphone is the antithesis of the tziytz. While the tziytz is all about focus, our smartphone has been designed to be a vehicle of distraction. These devices have been designed with a notification engine that enable millions of apps to constantly compete for our attention. We may be engaged in an important discussion with our teenager daughter, trying to concentrate and deeply connect to her, to her world and feelings, but our device notifies us that we should pay attention to something 'a lot more important'. We may be trying to solve a business challenge with our colleagues but they constantly get distracted by their device, making it increasingly difficult to deepen our thoughts and to tackle the more complicated issues humanity is being faced with.

We aspire to a meaningful life, a purpose-driven life, with deep relationships with our family members, our community, our co-workers, but let's admit it: our devices have become obstacles as much as they are enablers as I discussed last Friday with Steve Rosenbush, the Wall Street Journal CIO Journal's Editor.
All we need is to take back control, to remember that the purpose of technology is to serve humanity rather than to diminish it. So let's be smarter about our 'not-so smart' phones: let's learn when to turn then off, when to turn the notifications off and let's make sure we put humanity before technology.