Friday, 25 March 2011

E mail Rage

Here is a sermon I delivered three years back, which caused quite a raucous in my community..

This morning I would like to take a few moments to reflect on a subject which is constantly in the news whether we like it or not and will radically effect the way that we conduct ourselves in the future.

People today speak a lot about the Carbon footprint- the measure of the impact that human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of green house gas produced measured in units of carbon dioxide.

Today we are now coming to the recognition that what we do- how we conduct ourselves in an everyday routine manner in our homes in our offices and on the street will have serious repercussions on our future. But not only that, we realize that through even some of the smallest mundane actions like driving a car, turning our central heating up, we are consuming more energy and that impacts on our world, on our environment.

I remember a few years ago the Chernobyl incident when the nuclear reactor blew up sending a cloud of radioactive dust around the world. The discussion at the time was how the event that took place thousands of miles away had a global impact to the extent that it affected the sheep in Scotland.

What do we learn from this? - We learn the inter-dependence and inter-connectivity of life. We sometimes think that what we do does not have any effect on others, but on a simple physical mundane level, we are all linked together- whether we like it or not.

Another example of this inter-relationship is the financial crisis that seems to be looming on the horizon. We live in a global market place and the impact of the credit crunch and falling house market in America could be finding its way over here. Does this mean recession or even a depression? We’ll leave that to the economists to decide. However, we can definitely see how actions in one part of the world can influence what occurs in another country.

We are inter- connected and we do not always see the effect of our actions on the physical world.

The Baal Shem Tov says that everything that happens in this world on a physical plane occurs on a spiritual level. We think sometimes because we do not see the immediate effects of the way in which we act- that it doesn’t matter ,that we can just comport ourselves in an inappropriate manner, and since I haven’t effected anybody, haven’t physically harmed anybody directly- it’s o.k.

This morning we read from the Sedra of Shemini and we were introduced for the first time to the laws of Kashrut. The Torah says that there are certain animals that we may eat and those we cannot. Throughout our history there have been scholars who have sought to rationalize the rules of Kashrut to interpret and give meaning to why we keep these laws. But, the bottom line is that we don’t always understand every law of the Torah especially dealing with a law on the level of Chok- statute- the type of law that seems to defy all reason.

We do not know the spiritual impact that we effect on our lives by not keeping Kashrut. Because we do not see the immediate result of our actions doesn’t mean that they are not there. The Cabbalists say that through keeping Kashrut we help to spiritually nurture and elevate our souls. And just as we are very concerned with physical sustenance, we have to also guard and protect the spiritual nourishment of our souls.

We spend a lot of time and energy talking about Kashrut but our Rabbis say that not only should we be careful in what enters our mouth and goes into our bodies, but we need to be careful about what comes out of our mouths.

The Talmud says that through speaking gossip- Lashon Harah we virtually “kill” three people. Firstly; the one about whom we are speaking; secondly; the one who accepts the gossip as true and thirdly; the one who speaks the gossip.

Quite a statement.

Through speaking Lashon Harah you kill somebody. Is this Guzma-exaggeration or what? What is the Talmud trying to say here? I think that the gemara is trying to convey that we do not always see the spiritual negative impact, the destruction that we make when we speak disparagingly of our fellow human beings.

But it’s not just our speech. There are new modern modes of communication that we think by using them it doesn’t make a difference. Sometimes we don’t like to tell somebody in their face what we think of them- why? because we prefer not to confront them. So instead we utilize new modern forms of media, and hide behind them because we think we can get away with it.

Take for example the E-mail. It’s brilliant. It allows us to send messages to many people instantaneously.

I can speak to somebody on the other side of the world.

We can use it in the Shul to send out messages to a majority of our members. G-d forbid somebody passes away in the morning and within minutes we can organize the funeral and ensure a minyan will turn up.

We can advertise the Monday night adult education programs to the community. Think about it. It’s instant, it’s cheap and a great mode of communication.

But there are downsides. I’m angry about something. I don’t like the way something has been done in the Shul. So in my fit of anger I hastily write an E-mail. I’m red in the face and writing the E-mail gets it off my chest. And whilst I’m doing it, I c.c to a few other people and then I might do a Bcc to some of my friends. And let’s be honest there is no confidentiality or privacy when it comes to an E-mail. You send it out and it can go on ad infinitum.

And I press the SEND button.

And after I’ve calmed down from my fit of anger I’ve suddenly realised I sent out this E mail. It’s gone half way around the world. I said things in it that I really regret but you know what. I’ve blown it.

It’s written- it’s been carbon copied, it’s been sent. The damage has been done.

An E mail is not a letter. It’s not a conversation.

What we do, what we say- we have no idea the effect and impact we make

Think about it.

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