By Nizan Stein Kokin
Point of Access
During my first semester at university, I got introduced to email. You had to go to a computer lab on campus to connect to the virtual world. In graduate school I advanced to my own telephone line with a dial-up connection. So I didn’t need to go out anymore, but it was still one line, one concrete point of connectivity. One device, one line and a single cable. Once you were on the internet the telephone was blocked. You couldn’t be in both worlds simultaneously.
Broadband widened our options, but the real deal came with wireless. No more limitations based on the length of your cable…. access to the virtual world was everywhere – at least in cities – depending on your device and data plan. Big centres like Berlin even have free Wi-Fi zones throughout the city. Within just a few years we’ve grown to expect access to the virtual world almost everywhere. But are we getting lost? Distinctions between real and virtual fade. What’s an actual hug from an acquaintance versus a kiss or heart emoji from my dear one hundreds of miles away in a different time zone? Which one is more real? Some of us live and breathe the virtual world through and through (WhatsApp, Snapchat…). We are used to moving from physical to virtual encounters and vice versa with ease.
“But unto the place which the Lord your God will choose from amidst of all your tribes to establish His name there, His dwelling you shall seek, and come there.”
Really?! What does it mean for the wireless generation that God chooses one place amidst one specific tribe, and one even has to go there in person?
Bnei Israel are commanded to destroy and erase completely all idol hotspots that they encounter on their conquering journey into the Promised Land. They are to have one single point of access, but they are not even told where to find it. I wonder if this felt just as outrageous to the Israelites as it does to me, comparing it to my daily reality of multiple avenues into the virtual world.
What, then, can this idea mean for us in our world?
Focus. God’s presence is still to be found. “His dwelling you shall seek, and come there” – Ramban writes in his commentary on the verse: “…In the way of true understanding ‘you shall inquire after His dwelling’ means you shall seek His glory, ‘and come there’ to see the face of the Master, the Lord God of Israel. It is from here that the Sages employed the word shechina.” The Shechina, God’s presence, can dwell everywhere. It is our true seeking of the divine that makes the difference and grants us the encounter. It doesn’t connect automatically through devices that screen our surroundings. Sforno writes: “God will not come to you as in the case of the idolaters, but you will come to Him.” We have to put in our hearts and our human effort. We have to focus on the journey. Entering the month of Elul looking towards the High Holidays, I’ve decided to seek and focus on a true encounter between myself and the Divine, myself and my fellow human. Shabbat Shalom & Chodesh Tov!
Nizan Stein Kokin is a rabbinical student of the Zacharias Frankel College in Berlin. She will spend the coming academic year as a visiting student at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles.