There's No App for Atonement

This Yom Kippur, power down your iPhone and cut out the tweeting. There is no technology that can stir you like the shofar and the ancient practice of tuning into one's soul.

So the iPhone 5 has arrived. Ho hum. Another false messiah that millions will worship. So much so that many find themselves texting sweet nothings to their sweethearts while driving the car with kids in tow.

Perhaps that’s what life in our wireless world has been reduced to: false messiahs and shortsighted shortcuts. In the relentless rush of the rat race, some of these shortcuts are as ubiquitous as they are iniquitous. We think we need to convey a message so we punch out yet another banal text.

It gets worse, or better, depending on whether you believe tweets are for twits. Millions of people feel the need to share their innermost thoughts, except it seems so often the content is at best puerile and at worst depraved.

The digital revolution does, however, have myriad advantages. I’m not listing them because many are self-evident, especially if you’re reading this on a digital screen.

And nowadays we can do virtually everything from bed, if we so desire. Bed used to have two sublime functions: sleep and sex. But with the advent of the iPad, another darling of the digital revolution, sleep and sex seem to have been relegated to footnotes. For some folks, the sex may be even better in the virtual world. And, I suspect, sleep will one day be available for download. iSnooze, perhaps?

We have become so driven to distraction by the latest fleeting fads that we’re more connected to the virtual world than the real world.

Which brings me to this week, the holiest week in the Jewish calendar. Yet most of the world’s 13 million or so Jews – myself included – probably remained logged on during Rosh Hashanah, even though it contravenes our law.

But almost all of us, myself included, probably fell silent when the rabbi raised the shofar and sounded the blasts that heralded in the New Year.

And most of us will fall silent again on Wednesday night when the shofar echoes around synagogues to signal the end of Yom Kippur.

True, the shofar is wireless, but it’s also timeless. It hasn’t been updated since its dawn millennia ago – there’s no turbo-charged shofar, no iShofar, no Shofar 2.0. There are no copyright court cases and although there’s probably an app, it’s a poor cousin to the real deal.

The background – that Abraham, who was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac, sacrificed a ram instead – is not as didactic as the foreground.

For the sounding of the shofar is meant to shake us from our slumber, awaken our spirituality and provoke us to measure our moral compass.

You don’t have to be a Luddite or even a technophobe to be drawn by the idea of pressing the pause button to reflect amid the ruthless race for profit and profile.

That’s precisely what the shofar is for – to remind us to mute the unbearable noise that clutters our airwaves so that we can think without distractions. To reflect on our behavior in the past year and think about how to better it in the next.

And so the bottom line is this: In this day and age when our global discourse seems to have been contracted into 140 characters or less, timeless cultural symbols such as the shofar remind us of that brave old world.

The more our global village shrinks into sound bites, the more important the sound of the shofar becomes for the next generation.

The more we text, the more we lose sight of the fact the original text – the Torah – is still operational in the new millennium.

The more we crave the next invention – iWallets or iWhatevers – the more we need a ram’s horn to remind us that the past has arguably more value, and values, for our children.

In short, the false messiahs of modernity are no substitute for the longstanding lodestones of antiquity.

And here’s the rub. You don’t need to be Orthodox, or even religious, to subscribe to the subtext. All you have to do is turn off your iPhone, tune out of the Twitterverse and drop into your soul for a moment of silent introspection on Yom Kippur.

In fact, you don’t even need to go to synagogue. Except if you don't, you won’t hear the ancient sound of the shofar.