With every passing moment of our lives today, the world of information continues to explode exponentially. It is sometimes difficult to grasp what this truly means, but to give you an idea, try to visualise the entire body of global information represented in an infographic of proportions and percentages – a colossal feat no doubt. Yet, no sooner than the infographic is generated, the information is already passé.
There are certainly not enough trees in the world to produce paper, upon which to write down even an infinitesimal part of this constant stream of statistics, nor technological capabilities to digitally store this either. This reminds me of a Talmudic teaching that I recently encountered, which paraphrases this phenomenon (more than 1,500 years ago I might add) as follows:
“Even if all the seas were ink,
all the heavens were parchment,
and all the world’s inhabitants scribes;
They would not be able to write down
what the government of a country
accomplishes on any particular day.”
– Talmud Tractate Shabbat 11a
There is just so much going on around us all the time, and yet we crave more than ever a sense of meaning, purpose and ultimate connection – despite the rich and colourful lives we live.
What, about that which we encounter, is not allowing us access to the missing links in our lives? More importantly though, how can we even begin to sort through the endless flow of information?
I spoke recently in Synagogue on a Friday night, about the difference between ‘topical’ and ‘relevant’. Topical means a focus on the current events of our lives. Yesterday it’s the downing of a Malaysian airplane, today it’s killings in Gaza, tomorrow it’s trouble in the financial markets. Relevant means something much more subtle. Relevant touches a connective and deeply personal space, something that does not change through flicking channels.
Topical information is a dime a dozen. Relevant information is much harder to find. One must sift through mounds of ‘topical’ information before one begins to find something ‘relevant’. Yet, the great irony of our lives is that we are inundated with dated information. We become evermore unfocused and disconnected with the rise of irrelevant details.
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I would like to suggest, that as a way to filter the cluttered piles of topical information, we begin to explore the relevance of Torah study, with its sacred texts and ageless sagacity. We set about learning and engaging with the Torah on our own level, at our own pace.
The litmus test of authentic Torah and its timeless wisdom is its relevance beyond space and time.
Do the words of the Talmudic sages speak to us in the present? Does an audio lecture or written piece from years gone by, still resonate with us today? Do the words of the Divine, echo across the decades and centuries?
In what way are we able to take the Torah and make it relevant? In what way are we going to make it our own, make it something real that applies to us not only in the here and now but also for time immemorial? In what way will the classic teachings of old continue to be completely fresh and tangible in our current lives?
As we struggle to stay afloat, above the ever-increasing flow of facts and fiction, let the light of the brilliant Torah guide us to a life of relevant knowledge, not just one of topical information.