May 25, 2012
By Joel Moskowitz
A pious man is forced onto the roof of his home as floodwaters keep rising. A man in a canoe passes by and offers him a ride. “God will help me,” says the man on the roof. As the waters rise further a speedboat stops by and offers the man a ride. Once again he says, “No thanks, God will help me.” The waters rise further and a helicopter hovers around the roof and lowers a ladder – once again “God will help me.” Eventually, the pious man drowns. When he arrives in heaven and meets his Maker he challenges Him, “I always had so much faith in you, why didn’t you save me?” God replies, “I sent you a canoe, a speedboat and helicopter and you refused them all.”
- Old Joke
This weekend, the Jewish Holiday of Shavuot is celebrated. The holiday commemorates God giving the Torah to the Israelites after redeeming them from slavery in Egypt. While God remains an active participant in the biblical narrative, his role becomes less obvious, first speaking through judges, then prophets and priests. Ultimately, the miracles God performs become less and less obvious to people as he retreats and leaves the ever-growing human race to figure it out for themselves.
In my mind, the Torah is the canoe. It is a blueprint for building a society, given to former slaves and the children of slaves, people unaware and unaccustomed to “civilized” society. Like a canoe, it is a crude but competent vehicle so long as there are no strong winds or heavy rains. The speedboat certainly is the grand hild of the canoe, adding power, muscle and ease in navigating the waters. Finally, the helicopter the great grandchild of the speedboat, enables one to transcend the waters altogether.
Use of any those vehicles was not a guarantee of the pious man making it to safety. Weather, obstacles and the navigators’ competence are important factors. History shows that man is constantly improving the canoe out of sheer necessity with innovation and creativity. While some would argue that the speedboat is an improvement on the canoe, there are those that argue that the speedboat is dangerous. It can take people to further destinations thus exposing them to outside influences. The sheer power of the machine can do harm and hurt people if not used properly. Ultimately, we have found a way to have our speedboat and somehow placate those fears, or so it seems.
In a world where innovative, technological breakthroughs happen rapidly, fear and distrust of this metamorphous becomes a rallying cry for many. This past Sunday’s rally in CitiField to alert people to the dangers of the Internet is an example of this distrust. Rather than entrusting us to self-filter our usage we are exhorted to not use it at all or to obtain rabbinic permission.
While I enjoy canoeing I also like a speedboat and I fly because it’s practical. There are dangers and risks in all of them and hopefully I take precautions in using any of those modes of transportation. That is the message I take from Shavuot. We were given a set of guidelines, a living document, which changes and improves with modifications to our daily life. We need to live within those guidelines together with the changes not to their exclusion.
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