Virtual reality users are immersed in an illusory world, detached from the real world
It used to be that if you wanted to play baseball or basketball, you needed a real baseball, a real basketball, and a team of real people. To go car racing, you needed a real sports car. To experience the excitement of skiing down a steep mountain, you needed to have real skis and a snow-covered mountain.
In today’s world of entertainment, a person can play virtual baseball and basketball without balls and without teams. You can go car racing without a car, and skiing without skis, snow, or a mountain.
We live in an era of virtual reality. Virtual reality users are immersed in an illusory world, detached from the real world.
As we know, everything in the physical world has a parallel in the ruchniyus world.
It’s in Our Hands
Klal Yisrael will soon be mourning the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash by fasting on Asarah B’Teves, the day the enemy laid siege to Yerushalayim.
Writing about the siege, historians of the time most likely would have focused on the size and prowess of the conquering army. They would have attributed the success of the siege and the ultimate destruction of the Beis Hamikdash to the superior military strategy and strength of the enemy.
Chazal paint a different picture. They tell us that the Churban occurred because of Klal Yisrael’s spiritual weakness. Rav Chaim Volozhin in Nefesh Hachaim (1:4) explains that the power didn’t lie with Nevuchadnetzar or Titus or their armies. The power lied with Klal Yisrael. Their aveiros destroyed the Beis Hamikdash L’maalah, the Heavenly Beis Hamikdash. Only then were Nevuchadnetzar and Titus able to destroy the Beis Hamikdash here on earth.
We’re immersed in an illusory world in which our enemies appear to have power over us. That world feels so real — yet it’s a world of virtual reality. The true cause for anything that happens in the world is the Ribbono shel Olam. Hashem pulls the strings, and He gives us the power, through our actions, to control which strings He pulls.
When Rivkah Imeinu approached the navi Shem to help her deal with the discomfort she was experiencing in her womb, she was told: “Two nations are inside your womb… One regime will [always] dominate the other…” (Bereishis 25:23).
The Gemara (Megillah 6a) explains the pasuk as follows: “Regarding Caesarea (the central city of the domain of Eisav, the Roman Empire) and Yerushalayim (the capital of Yaakov’s domain), if someone tells you both of these places are laid waste, don’t believe it. And if someone says both are settled, don’t believe it. But if someone says that Caesarea is laid to waste and Yerushalayim is settled, or that Yerushalayim is laid to waste and Caesarea is settled, you may believe it. Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak said that this concept is derived from the idea that ‘one regime will always dominate the other.’ ”
Eisav’s power to dominate the Jewish People isn’t a function of its military, political, or economic strength. Eisav’s power is entirely dependent on Klal Yisrael. The rise and fall of Eisav is inversely related to the spiritual rise and fall of Klal Yisrael.
The Torah tells us why Eisav was given his name. “The first one emerged red, entirely like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Eisav” (Bereishis 25:25). Rashi explains that since his hairy appearance resembled an older, mature person, he was called Eisav, meaning “finished,” fully developed.
The Midrash Rabbah offers an additional insight into the meaning of Eisav’s name. The letters ayin and heh are interchangeable. If the letter ayin is substituted with the letter heh, then the name “Eisav” reads “Hashav” — falsehood, nothingness. Rav Gedalia Schorr explains this to mean that the worldview endorsed by Eisav is entirely false. Perhaps, suggests my husband Rabbi Chaim Gibber, it can also signify that the image of power that Eisav projects is false. In reality, it’s an illusion.
When we’re intimidated by our enemies, we tend to focus our energies on doing whatever we can to diminish their hatred toward us. If we can remind ourselves that Eisav’s power is shav and is dependent only on our spiritual state, then we’ll respond to Eisav in the only truly effective way — by rising spiritually, repairing our relationship with Hashem, and improving our observance of Torah and mitzvos.
Close Your Eyes
When you’re on a harrowing virtual reality ride, speeding down a highway with other virtual cars ready to crash into you, or skiing down a snow-covered virtual mountain about to crash into a pole, what do you instinctively do? You close your eyes. Closing your eyes takes you out of your frightening virtual world and brings you back to reality.
What can we do to emerge from the frightening virtual reality world in which we live? We’re witnessing an alarming rise in anti-Semitism and hate crimes, and we’re attributing them to the power of our enemies. How can we enter the real world?
We can close our eyes.
When we close our eyes while saying Shema, we attest to the fact that the world as we see it isn’t the real world. We enter the real world by rejecting the illusion that anyone other than Hashem has power, by confirming our belief that Hashem is echad — He’s the only power in the heavens and on earth.
When we close our eyes while bentshing licht, we reject the illusory world of the work week and plant ourselves in the world of Shabbos, a day dedicated to acknowledging that Hashem is the Creator and the Power behind everything.
To achieve that clarity and hold on to it, we need to strengthen our emunah and internalize that Hashem, the only true Power, has created us b’tzelem Elokim, in His image, and has granted us the power to control our enemies through our actions.
Emunah is related to the word eim — mother. It’s the mother who instills emunah in her children from an early age. It’s the mother who can “instill emunah together with the baby food” (in the words of Rebbetzin Tehila Jaeger). Rav Moshe Feinstein told us that emunah is the primary chinuch we need to give our children, and it’s never too early to start.
When we tell our children the story of the Churban, let’s take the time to explain to them that it wasn’t the strength of the Babylonians or the Romans that caused the destruction.
When we tell our children the story of Purim, let’s emphasize that it wasn’t Haman’s power that led to the decree to annihilate the Jewish nation; it was the sin of going to Achashveirosh’s party and bowing to the statue of Nevuchadnetzar. We weren’t saved because Esther was able to convince Achashveirosh not to destroy her people; it was because Klal Yisrael did a teshuvah sheleimah.
Let’s internalize this and help our children understand that the world as we see it is a virtual reality world. Instead of being paralyzed by fear of our enemies, let’s mobilize to do teshuvah. Hashem invested each of us with incredible power. Let’s utilize that power in these unsettling times to bring about the downfall of our enemies by growing in our avodas Hashem.
Rebbetzin Suri Gibber has been involved in chinuch habanos for decades, first as general studies principal in Bais Yaakov High School of Miami, and, for the past 15 years, as principal of Bais Yaakov High School of the Twin Cities. She also gives adult education classes.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 771)
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