Taking Back Control

The horrific scene last Thursday afternoon during a Minchah minyan in the Panorama building on Ben Tzvi Street in southern Tel Aviv was also a tragically familiar one.

Once again, a Palestinian terrorist had viciously stabbed a Jew, and bystanders and then medical personnel were desperately — albeit unsuccessfully — trying to save the life of the victim. Presumably, some of the other onlookers were so traumatized and shocked by what was transpiring that they stood there in frozen silence, while some of the others were uttering tefillos on behalf of the injured man.

Then there was one bystander who did the unthinkable: He pulled out his smartphone and took a video of the Jew bleeding to death. He then promptly posted the gruesome film on a social media group, and the recipients, in turn, immediately sent the film on. Within minutes, the footage had been viewed and forwarded by numerous individuals until, reportedly, it was received and seen by the son of the victim — who learned at that moment, in the most nightmarish of ways, that his father had been brutally killed.

This incident was perhaps the most shocking of its kind, but sadly far from an isolated case. It prompted the Rishon LeTzion, Sephardic Chief Rabbi Harav Yitzchak Yosef, shlita, to issue a public letter harshly condemning the photographing or videotaping of terror victims.

“In addition to the agmas nefesh it causes their families, this also constitutes a desecration of the kavod of the deceased, and a desecration of kvod habriyos,” Rav Yosef wrote. “It is clear that according to the derech haTorah and derech hamussar, [these photos and videos] should not be publicized, and one should refrain from looking at such photos.”

It has long been pointed out that at times of tragedy or medical crisis, common sense and basic decency demand that bystanders, after ensuring that help has been offered or summoned, give the victim the privacy he or she needs and deserves and focus on reciting a perek Tehillim. Most people are born with a tendency to be curious, but this should never be exercised at the expense of another person’s feelings.

The act of filming the scene of a dying Jew is an act of depravity that was once unimaginable.

How is it possible that a member of a nation that is famed for the attribute of rachmanus should exhibit such cold-heartedness? How did it happen that a person whose soul was present at Har Sinai should stoop so low?

Had what occurred only been limited to the fact that these pictures were shot and the videos taken, one could simply point to the actions of a deranged few. However, the decision by so many individuals to forward these pictures and clips even after they saw them and knew what they were about, illustrates that what is transpiring is symptomatic of a broad and fundamental crisis of judgment.

Despite all its drawbacks, the technology that has transformed our world into one of instantaneous communication is here to stay. The days when one carefully wrote a letter by hand, read and reread it before sealing the envelope, and then thought about it all the way to the mailbox is now ancient history.

Yet, as Torah Jews, we are required to bear in mind that our mission and its inherent moral obligations remain the same, regardless of how much the society around us changes. Even when the rest of the world goes mad and throws the last vestiges of propriety and humanity — what many would refer to as basic mentchlichkeit — to the wayside, as members of an am segulah we must retain our high moral standards.

We live in a time when, for much of society, only what appears on some online forum is thought to matter in life, and the driving factor is to be the first to post something eye-catching on some social-media group. In the process, the senses are dulled and judgment is impaired beyond recognition. With man wholly subservient to technology, since neither the computers, the hand-held devices, nor the software or applications that run on them have any human feelings, the mortal whose fingers are tapping on the screen or moving around the mouse loses those feelings as well.

It is time for us to make a concrete and tangible effort to take back control of our lives and remember our responsibilities as human beings and Torah Jews. It is time for us to ensure that it is the values and principles we received at Har Sinai that are the driving factor behind all our actions, as we work to fulfill our mission as a light for all the nations and live lives filled with purity and holiness.