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SOUND BITE JUDAISM

by Rabbi David Zauderer    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

Moses tells the Jews in Egypt this long prophecy that he had just received from G-d. In it, Hashem tells Moses of His plan to free the Jews from their enslavement to the Egyptians and to take them as a nation who will receive the word of G-d at Sinai.

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Moses tells the Jews in Egypt this long prophecy that he had just received from G-d. In it, Hashem tells Moses of His plan to free the Jews from their enslavement to the Egyptians and to take them as a nation who will receive the word of G-d at Sinai.

But the Jews didnít listen to what he was saying, due to "broken spirit and hard work" (Exodus 6:9).

G-d then spoke to Moses, saying, "Go speak to Pharaoh, and tell him to free the Jews." To which Moses responds, "Even the Jews didnít listen to me, so how can I expect Pharaoh to listen to me?"

The commentaries point out the difficulty in Mosesí logic. After all, the Torah clearly states the reason why the Jews didnít have the patience and presence of mind to appreciate Moses words óthey were short of spirit and overworked. Pharaoh, on the other hand, was living a pampered existence. Every day he would hang out at his own private swimming pool, the Nile, and just chill out. (Had he lived today, he would probably have been featured on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous!) So How can Moses compare Pharaohís situation to that of the Jews?

I think that a close look at what is happening in our generation in America today, might yield some insights that will help us understand what Moses meant over 3000 years ago.

Permit me to explain. We live today in what I would call a "sound bite generation." Practically all the information that we consume, be it on television, the radio, newspapers or magazines, is fed to us in short sound bites, and hardly ever in depth. We seem to have lost the ability to focus on a given topic or idea for more than a few minutes before we lose interest or our minds start to wander.

In olden times, philosophers would sit and ponder deep questions for hours on end, with tremendous concentration. The Talmud tells us that righteous Jews would spend three hours on their morning prayers. Each word was said with great focus and concentration. Not 70 years ago, Yeshiva students in Eastern Europe would spend 18 hours a day studying the Talmud, very often devoting a few hours to discuss just one topic!

Today, we can only handle a short article in Time or Newsweek, or a thirty-minute news program with only brief headlines about the issues that come up. Even our prayer services are being shortened because there is only so much that we can pay attention to the prayers (or to the rabbiís sermon). We seem to have no time for real in-depth analyses of the more important things in life. Our attention span gets shorter and shorter, even as our life span gets longer and longer. Why is that?

There seems to be an inverse relationship between the ability to focus, concentrate, and analyze subjects in-depth, and the materialism of our times, in which we have every conceivable pleasure, game, and luxury at our disposal. Maybe our minds function best when they are not competing with our bodies. When we donít have all these "toys" and other diversions, we can afford ourselves the time to think about the big picture, the real important issues, and the deeper meaning of life.

Hey, itís just a theory, but maybe thatís the explanation for what has happened to us in recent years.

And maybe thatís what Moses was saying to G-d. The Jews didnít listen to me because they were too caught up in the difficult, backbreaking labor, and just didnít have the presence of mind to concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes. Pharaoh, although he doesnít have that excuse, would definitely not have the patience or time to pay attention to me either. He is too caught up in all his diversions and pleasures for him to give some serious attention to what I am telling him. Maybe heíll give me a few minutes, but then he will probably surf to a different channel or Web site. Thereís too much going on in his life to preoccupy him, for him to pay any attention to the really important stuff that I have to tell him.

This idea is an important lesson for all of us in life, and it should be something for us to think about and pay some serious attention toóthat is, of course, if we actually take the time to read this whole article before our attention span runs out! You see what I mean?

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Rabbi David Zauderer is a card-carrying member of the Atlanta Scholars Kollel.

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