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Is Heaven Y2K Compliant?

By Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
founder of the Jewish Renewal Movement
New Years, 5759

Each time I write a New Year's message I am looking for that point of T'shuvah that is not obvious -- a point of teaching that I want to make, or an interpretation of the numerical value of the year.

This time the pressing t'shuvah issue stares us in the face. It not only confronts us at a New Year but actually emerges, ironically enough, from the New Year itself -- not our own, but the global one a little more than a year from now, the Year 2000.

It is the impending crisis that many analysts expect because of the "Y2K" computer bug that is built into so many of our social systems -- not only financial and communication systems but possibly also into basic support systems like electric power, water, and transport.

Never has the presence of our Karma been so immediate. Like the citizens of Nineveh listening to Jonah, we must do something about the message calling to us if we want to live past it.

And it is not just the individual's t'shuvah. This time we are called to do a collective t'shuvah that encompasses the globe and that requires that we not only "regret" but also prepare pro actively, not only for ourselves but also for others who do not have the means to prepare for themselves.

With the oncoming crisis of Y2K we need special prayers and acts of t'shuvah in the coming season. While the cyber-Yom Hadin (Day of Judgment) is generally not expected to cause havoc until the January 1 after Rosh Hashanah 5760, there are some fiscal Rosh Hashanahs that will kick in in the coming April and later in July and this will cause the first shock waves we will experience.

"Who is wise?" our Sages ask in Pirqey Abot, "One who sees what is yet to be born" -- what is ahead. And there are many who are beginning to prepare for survival during the expected upheavals. And yes, they are wise. But are they wise enough?

God sent a relatively mild scourge to get us into line. We did not have a nuclear war/holocaust. Yes, there are natural disasters made worse by short-sighted human action -- floods and drought, hurricanes and global warming-warning. There are social disasters like ethnic cleansing, terrorism, and the absence of moral leadership. But Barukh Hashem we did not have a nuclear winter.

We wanted indeed to "Make love not war" -- but we did not make love our basic social norm. We relegated love mostly to sex; so there is little love in the mean spirited Congress or the media.

Shortsightedness is the malaise of governments and business. Although on Shabbat we sing Shalom Alekhem to welcome the angels -- "malakhim, Divine messengers" -- by and large we do not give attention and awareness to higher forces and powers that are eager to assist us in facing the coming crises.

The higher powers are available to help - providing we act on behalf of the many.

Why does this danger face us? The pollution of time has caused a speeding up and an increase in pressure that is unprecedented. Behind the scenes of our awareness there are millions of computer clocks racing, some of them at speeds over 400 megahertz, relentlessly pushing the flywheel of time which we, in search of ever greater speed, have loosened without examining the shadow costs to our lives.

So enamored have we become of the networks of traffic, the electrical grids, the cyber web, that we have neglected basic natural survival tools and procedures:

How are we to survive a cyber winter and a famine if there is a radical break in communication and transportation?

What will happen to our water supply and our heating if we suffer a disconnect from the power grid?

By and large we have no heaters, or refrigeration that can do without electricity. We have abandoned the necessary redundant fallback options of wood stoves, wells, and vegetable gardens. We have forgotten the teachings of Pesach, how to survive on simple foods, and of Sukkot, how to survive in simple houses.

Our finances have disappeared from real goods and money into bits and bytes. What we have worked for and set aside for our future, in insurance policies and stocks and bonds, threatens to become submerged in the netherworld of the cyber Hades.

And we, who dread the oncoming crisis that has no villains but our own colluding with our greed, must stop and think.

There are many forms of panic reactions that might precipitate a harmful response to the cyber-problem and cause people to hoard money and goods, to acquire firearms, to build bunkers. Panic may have the result that banks fail, goods become scarce, and inflation goes rampant.

Against all this we need to mobilize our soul power and clear our place in the presence of the Shekhinah, so that we may manage to remain loyal to Earth, Mensch and Jew.

We need to let go of past grudges and vindictiveness and this time really forgive all those in our lives and seek their forgiveness, since we won't be able to manage to make our way through the crisis with the load of the unforgiven Karma. We need to make sure that our neighbors and we will be on a footing that will allow us to share and help one another.

In our reliance on corporate/consumer economy we have become estranged from the simple ways of Earth. And now we will have to make sure that we can again connect with the natural order that God has promised us in the second paragraph of the Sh'ma:

"If you will pay attention to my instructions which I offer you new each day and be in harmony with Yah your God and assist Yah wholeheartedly and with vitality, then I will give you your 'rain' (geshem), your gashmiyut --filling your physical needs -- in a timely way. And so you will eat and be satisfied."

We are called to greater simplicity and to resist being accessories to the plundering of the natural resources. Voluntary simplicity needs to be embraced along with progress that does not depend on feverish consumption.

There are many habits we will have to shed and install others, more wholesome ones, in their place. More than ever will we need the fellowship of others who will work on the same thing so that together we may overcome the tyranny of habit and advertisement. We will need the sacred institutions to survive and to be available to help us during the crisis.

In all the concerns for our resources, the synagogue and havurah not only must not be neglected, but strengthened even more. Community is not only feelings of warmth: it is deeds of caring, gemilut chassadim. It is, for example, redesigning the catering facilities to serve the community as soup kitchens and shelters.

How pertinent at this time in our history are the words of Isaiah that we read at this time in our festival cycle (on the morning of Yom Kippur):

(58:6) Is not this the purpose of Yom Kippur, the fast that I have chosen? to free yourself of the compulsions of malice, to get rid of your stressful drivenness, and to let the oppressed go free, and that you break all shackles?

(58:7) Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring the homeless to your house? when you see the naked, that you clothe him; and that you hide not thyself from your own fellow human?

(58:8) Then shall your light break forth as the dawn, and your health shall increase swiftly. Then shall your righteousness shall go before you; the way you will manifest the splendor of Yah shall be your reward.

(58:9) Then shall you call, and Yah shall answer; you shall cry, and Yah shall say, Here I am. If you take away from the midst of you all oppression, your claiming moral superiority over others, and speaking words empty of integrity;

(58:10) And if you extend yourself to the hungry, and console the afflicted soul; then shall your inner light rise from dimness, and your darkness be as the noon day:

(58:11) And Yah shall guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in her thirst, and strengthen your bones: and you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.

(58:12) And this will result: that you shall build the old waste places: you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; and you shall be called the Tikkun maker, the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in.

(58:13) If you turn away your habit from ignoring the Sabbath, from doing your business on My holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of Yah, noble; and shall honor Yah, by doing what your soul needs, and finding your own soul's pleasure, and speaking your own deepest words:

(58:14) Then you will derive delight in Yah; and I will cause you to sit on top of the world, and nourish you with the heritage of Jacob your father: This is what you have heard from the Shekhinah.

The T'shuvah based on this will work for us to manage the crunch.

We also have to think beyond the crunch -- about the Kabbalah al l'habba, the intentional way we will want to live after the crisis is over, in such a way that the lessons of the crisis are not lost.

Knowing that the undertow of old habits is bound to put us again at new risks, we will want to learn to dance in new steps. We will have to partner Earth in all six directions and keep in mind the need to work and pray for her Hosha'na: "Save the Earth, suspended in space."

This will be shaped by the way in which we will celebrate Sukkot and Simhat Torah, not so much as t'shuvah of the past but the new way of being natural in a cyber world.

For crucial information on Y2K, see the World Wide Web at: (community recovery)