Chaya Passow
Chaya Passow

My Appliances Think I’m an Idiot

Last Shabbat we had an unexpected and unpleasant experience. We have recently had to purchase some major appliances. Since they were all new when we made aliya nearly 19 years ago, we have little to complain of. They have served us well.

We had just acquired a nearly-new GE oven to replace our old GE oven, and were using it for the first time on Shabbat. To keep food warm for Friday night, I would usually place it in the oven at a low temperature on time bake to warm for about 2 hours and it would turn off automatically just in time for dinner. We had been accustomed to the three beeps that signaled that the heating time had elapsed. However, this newer model had obviously been “improved.” It beeped three times, and four, and five… and kept beeping every 10 seconds for the entire Shabbat! It appears that you have to turn it off manually.

After Shabbat, we checked and found that the oven fortunately is equipped with a Shabbat mode, as is our new refrigerator. So, we sincerely hope that we won’t have an incessant beeping next Shabbat. However, the question is, why the ongoing, ceaseless beeping in the first place, annoying even when it isn’t shabbat? Are there people so forgetful that they will put food into the oven to heat on time bake and then forget all about it? Yes, of course there are! But I imagine there aren’t many. And if you are that forgetful, work out some memory aid to help you out.

So, my new refrigerator will beep one time if you have kept the door open for one minute. However, if you keep it open for three minutes, it will begin to beep without letup until you close that door. Obviously, this was requested by parents of teenage boys. Still, we are not all teenage boys and, anyway, how is anyone every going to learn responsibility if they are never trusted to have any?

Surely, we once survived without the beeping, and managed not to keep food in the oven for hours after it was ready. Nor did our milk sour from leaving the refrigerator door open. At least, not often. And we’ve managed to get dried clothes out of the dryer in a timely fashion without the dryer beeping to remind us. At least, most of the time.

On the subject of the beeping appliances, a British paper carried an article by Marianne Power who writes, “I feel I am being bullied in my own home. Bullied by beeps.” She then proceeds to cite the findings of Lisa R. Lavia, Managing Director of the Noise Abatement Society (UK). Lisa does research in qualitative and quantitative soundscape studies. She is currently conducting PhD research on soundscape and wellbeing. She writes;

“…beeps are one of the most stressful noises humans can be exposed to. The human brain is designed to respond to sound… However, beeps don’t tend to work (in normal ways) because they are not natural sounds. They confuse our brain and cause stress reactions.”

However, after discussing the harmful effects of the incessant beeping of our possessions, Power continues, saying, “But it’s not just the sound that annoys – it’s the idea that as adults we all need to be treated like children, to be told what to do by machines.”

For me, that is the true crux of the matter and the element that distresses the most. We are being increasingly infantilized. Over-protected from our own selves as though we were very irresponsible, and not overly-bright, children. It’s a societal issue as we are encouraged to disavow responsibility for our actions and certainly for the outcomes. Consequently, since we can not be trusted to behave maturely and responsibly, we need to be protected from our own shortcomings rather than be encouraged to improve and mature.

We should be grateful that our God and our religion do, in fact, treat us as responsible adults. We are told what the proper actions and behaviors are, warned that there are consequences connected to our deeds and words, and then handed complete “free choice” to act as we choose, properly or improperly, but with the gift of responsibility.

I recall a tried-and-true parenting technique. When a younger child would complain that an older sibling had greater privileges, such as later curfews, a larger allowance, or enhanced freedoms, they would be told that those privileges are accompanied by significantly heavier responsibilities. Today, not only children but even adults seem to believe that the privileges or “rights” should be bestowed without the attached responsibilities. Worse, often those “in charge” imply that we are incapable of undertaking the responsibilities, but should receive the privileges and rights, notwithstanding.

If I am about to speak a word of lashon hara, Hashem hasn’t arranged for a warning beeping sound to go off in my ears. I know the rules, believe in the consequences of my actions both in this world and in the next, and know that the rest is up to me. I have been given the choice to either “Choose Life” or not. That is what it means to be a responsible adult. It may be more difficult, but it is more rewarding and leads to growth rather than to regression.

There was once a Persian queen who could have chosen to live the life of a pampered favorite of a mighty king. She chose instead to step forward and take responsibility for the lives of her people, even at the risk of her own. Indeed, she did save her people. Her own future was less fortunate. But she is the Esther that we remember millennia later.

About the Author
Chaya Passow, a graduate of Stern College, majoring in English literature, taught English at the Hebrew University High School in Jerusalem. A lecturer and teacher of Jewish studies both in formal and informal settings, she is one of the founders of Lomdot and Melamdot, a program for advanced women's Torah learning. Since 2002 she has been living her dream of residing in Jerusalem, together with her husband, Eli, and enjoying being savta to a large cohort of beautiful grandchildren. Her new book, 'Letters from Planet Corona' was published in 2020.