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Sermon - Erev Rosh Hashanah 5775 - The iCloud and Transience

09/30/2014 10:07:32 AM


        The new iPhone came out this weekend. Anybody here have a new iPhone yet? You guys like it? Many of us heard about this new introduction by Apple a few weeks ago, but we finally were able to get our hands on it this past weekend. And as we heard, the gadget is filled with many wonderful new features. And while it can track your heart rate and your calorie intake, and perhaps it can even call your mother to wish her a happy New Year, my favorite addition to the new iPhone and its new operating system is how they've overhauled the iCloud. Now, all of us Apple owners have many gigabytes to fill up in the alleged "cloud." You see, I've always been fascinated and truly excited about how we are moving more into a "cloud" based computer reality. In case you don't know what I'm talking about, computers and laptops are moving away from saving documents and pictures on the actual hard drive. We are now moving in the direction of having all of our important documents stored on some server in the mysterious place called – the cloud.

            The reason why I am excited about our shift to a "cloud" based world is because I am a card-carrying member of the “crashed hard drive” community. Yes, I have been completely devastated by losing every important document on my computer because the storage device completely crashed. I am sure I am not alone. Many of us have experienced that nightmare, where all that we hold dear was completely wiped out. From the wedding pictures, to that Master’s thesis that no one will ever read; all of it was completely removed from our lives. If you're like me, when it happened, you felt like something had been ripped from your soul. But no matter what you did, the story always ends the same way: the IT guy tells you, "Oh yeah, that happens all the time. Those things only last a few years. Didn't you backup your data?"

            Now, we are in a world where hard drives only help the computer to function and our data is stored on some far away land. We have complete faith that photos from grandma and grandpa's 50th anniversary celebration will be saved for perpetuity. We now have no fears that are our child’s Picasso-like kindergarten drawings will be lost. We now can be sure that those scanned photos of you in your 1980’s big-hair will be stored in cyberspace forever.

            The strange thing about leaving the hard drive behind is that the moment that our hard drives crashed, was the same moment that we realized that we had things on our hard drives that were extremely important. When the crash happened, we remembered that we had tangible things that we cared about. When the computer didn't respond, we thought about what we could not access, and in the end, we started to get upset.

            So I pose to you this evening the following question: as we move into a more intangible, cloud-based, world, will things become less meaningful to us? What I mean by this is that more and more of our stuff is becoming placed in the cyberspace. More and more of our stuff is becoming intangible, less physical. While there are many upsides to this, our lives are becoming less filled with meaning. If we never lose the pictures and the files, we never seem to be shaken about their importance. As I said before, when we lose our hard drives, we suddenly remember all of the things that are important to us.

            So while we move closer and closer to having more and more things in the eternal cloud, we must not forget the importance of the tangible reality and the meaningful blessings that are around us. Our cyberworld encourages us to have this "YOLO” mentality. And in case you don't have a teenager at home, let me be the first to explain to you that “YOLO” is the acronym for "You Only Live Once." This existential proclamation, which is ubiquitous in social media, encourages the mentality to do wild and crazy things and leave consequences behind. This mentality cheers people on to act on instinct, post the outcome, and then forget about what was done. Why? Because you only live once.

            Overall, this mentality encourages us to leave behind permanence, to leave behind that tangibility of our actions, and in the end, to leave behind the idea of a meaningful life. You see, a meaningful life is one that is filled with memories. A meaningful life is one that is filled with tangible realities. A meaningful life is one that is filled with blessing. I'm sure many of us have been to someone's home that was surrounded with pictures, knickknacks, and tchotchkes of a life well lived. Yes, this is a home that is filled with obscure little things, like snow globes and even shot glasses, but clearly all of them have their own special meaning. On Rosh Hashanah, we must remember the importance of filling our lives with the metaphoric tchotchkes. We must remember that our lives should not be filled like we fill our cloud drives, where things can become intangible and forgotten. Rather, we must fill our lives with important meaningful things.

            The book of Ecclesiastes states, “Transience of Transience.  All things are Transient!  What profit have we from all the work which we toil under the sun? One generation departs and another generation comes, but the world forever stays.” The text points us to the lesson that no matter how hard we work, no matter how many cars or expensive gadgets we acquire, in the end, they hold little meaning. Ecclesiastes tells us that so much of our life is filled with meaningless stuff. By the end of the book, the lesson discerned is that since we are surrounded by such transience, the focus of our lives must be on the blessings and meaningful things around us. Finding meaning does not happen automatically. Ecclesiastes tells us that our days are filled with work. Our days are filled with the mundane. Of course we know that? But we put so much importance and energy into it. We carry it with us into our homes and into our interactions with our children and families. The challenge here is that we must force ourselves to focus on what is truly important. What that is for you might be different than for your neighbor. But it is incumbent upon all of us to search our souls to figure out what is meaningful for us and make that permanent.

Earlier this year, I heard a wonderful story about an aging woman named Ida. Throughout her life, she was perhaps best described as a “Mah-Jongg Lady”. I am sure you all know the type: spending many hours sitting around a table, passing tiles while saying Chinese phrases, and most importantly, talking with her friends about the important happenings in their lives. Ida was known for never missing a mah-jongg group for over 50 years. As she got older, her faculties became more affected and she started to have a hard time doing the daily chores of life. But no matter how difficult life got, she still remained committed to her mah-jongg game. As her final months of life came upon her, she was unable to do many things because her body was frail. Eventually, her arms were so weak that she was unable to lift the tiles. Knowing how meaningful mah-jongg was to this woman, a nurse in a home would place the tiles for Ida at every game. Though she didn't lay the tiles down herself, the day before she passed, she won her last game.

Ida made what was meaningful to her tangible. Ida made what would was meaningful to her real. Ida found blessing. How many of us can say the same thing about our lives? Rosh Hashanah gives us an opportunity to look back at our lives and ask, “What is meaningful in my life and how can I make it permanent?”

The cloud and Ecclesiastes cry out to us that there are many things in our lives that are transient, that lack physicality and meaning. The lesson here is to force us in the opposite direction. We must strive towards permanence. We must strive towards meaning. We must strive towards blessing.

May it be G-d's will, as we say together: Amen.

Mon, July 13 2020 21 Tammuz 5780