Thanks to today’s technology, I am able to be in contact with people around the world whom I would otherwise not speak to. For example, I have a WhatsApp chat with two Talmidei Chachamim (Torah scholars), one in Eretz Yisrael (Israel) and one in Australia, where we discuss different Torah topics and get each other’s feedback on our ideas. It also gives me an appreciation for Hashem (God)’s creation of time zones so that even in our small group, it’s always awake time for one of us, and the learning of Torah continues uninterruptedly.

Well, my friend in Australia also occasionally sends me jokes. This time it was this:

Q: If someone from the 1950’s suddenly appeared today, what would be the most difficult thing to explain to them about life today?
A: I possess in my pocket a device capable of accessing the entirety of information available to Man. I use it to view pictures of cats and get into arguments with strangers.

Though I smiled for an instant, this didn’t make me laugh – it made me think.

Technology – A Powerful Tool Going to Waste

Clearly, what would be so difficult for the person from the 1950s to understand is that you have such a powerful tool in your hands yet you use it for the most inane purposes possible. It’s not that the technology is beyond their understanding, but rather they can’t fathom the simple fact that we don’t recognize what a waste it is, and can discuss it almost without irony.

Of course, that is the heart of the joke. That we DO recognize how laughable it is. To have such potential; such an opportunity for greatness, and it’s channeled towards ridiculous things. But is that something we should be laughing about? I’m not sure what’s more of a joke, what he sent me or the people it’s referring to.

Certainly, there are many who take advantage of all the opportunities to learn Torah and do mitzvot that are afforded by today’s technology, but there are an overwhelming number who use it for the most wasteful and even harmful things.

Killing Time – It’s No Joke.

It does not even need to be technology. What about time? I’ve heard it said that one of the most apt expressions is, “killing time.” Indeed, time is something that cannot be gotten back and yet, we rarely appreciate it in the moment. We may throw it away, or fill it with silliness and emptiness. Now, that is not to say there isn’t a time for playfulness, levity, or joking around. If life were serious, all the time it would not be as joyful. The trick is being able to be joyful and lighthearted with purpose. Sometimes you need to be able to relax, and that’s important too. But that shouldn’t be the beginning and end of it.

Where Does Our Money Go?

Let’s talk about other things we undervalue. How about money? Imagine you met that same fellow from the 1950s and told him you have enough money to support a number of families and Yeshivos, and you use it instead to buy fancy clothes or cars, go out to restaurants where you can drop enough in an evening to pay several Kollel (Institute for advanced Talmudic studies for married men) salaries for a month, and travel to distant locales where you sit in a hotel and do nothing. What would he think then?

Again, many of us can identify what we spend money on without feeling sheepish about it, even if we ought to be a bit embarrassed. Of course, when Hashem blesses you with means, you can take advantage of it and enjoy the money, but are you essentially giving it away for the value equivalent of watching a video of a cat with a party hat pawing at an invisible predator?

Surely, many people are quite generous and do wonderful things with what they have, and I’m not talking about that. I’m focused on trying to recognize the waste that goes on.

Intelligence, Wit, Talent – To Build or to Tear Down?

What about intelligence, wit, or talent? All these things are gifts we should not squander. Are we using our intellect for good purposes, or are we focused on making ourselves feel better than others? Do we use our wit to build people up, or tear them down? Please don’t tell me it’s the latter; I don’t think I could handle that.

Do we use our creativity to inspire, or just to get a cheap laugh, often at the expense of others or maybe at the expense of Avodat Hashem (serving Hashem), chas v’shalom (God forbid)? To be honest, I’m glad my friend shared this joke with me, because it reminded me that some things are simply no laughing matter.

By Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz

Rabbi Gewirtz (Operation Inspiration) welcomes comments and feedback. Write to him at to share your thoughts. You never know when you may be the lamp that enlightens someone else.

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