June 22, 2024
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June 22, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Nothing Like the Real Thing

The Carmen family’s front yard was a great place to hang out. The grass was a vivid green and mowed to perfection. A beautiful elm tree stood in the center, providing the perfect balance of shade and sun. Two hammocks and four lounge chairs stood in front of the house, always full of Carmens, who were reading, napping or just hanging out. The Carmens didn’t like to spend money on appearances, so their landscaping wasn’t fancy, but Mrs. Carmen—Caryn to us—wanted to spruce things up a bit. With a little help from her husband Carl (and a lot of help from the landscaper), Caryn arranged a few large planter boxes to improve the appearances of 575 San Diego Drive.

Within a few weeks, the bushes, small trees and shrubs grew to their full heights, almost completing the project. However, Caryn had yet to decide which flowers to plant. Fed up with the lack of color, but not wanting to commit, she purchased a bunch of fake flowers to place out front until she decided. So, one Sunday morning, while her husband and kids were out at an early movie, Caryn “planted” the “flowers,” and headed inside to eat lunch. An hour later, the family car pulled into the driveway and Caryn heard the doors slam shut. She was too tired to get up, so she waited for her family to come inside to hear their reaction.

The family did come inside, but nobody said a thing about the flowers. Well, Carl did, but he already knew about them. “I like the look, honey; you chose the right color scheme. Let’s look into getting real flowers with the same colors.” However, of the three Carmen children, not one mentioned the flowers. “Let’s see how long it takes them to notice,” Carl suggested. Caryn smiled. “Okay. I give it until tomorrow after school.” Carl wasn’t as confident. “I bet they won’t realize until…Wednesday.” As it turns out, both Carl and Caryn were wrong. Only on Friday morning, when Joey noticed the neighbor’s football in the flowers, did any of the children notice the change. “I like the flowers, Mom!” he called, as he threw the football back over the fence and jogged toward the school bus. That night, at the Shabbat table, Caryn explained to her kids that the flowers were fake (Joey had no clue) and that they would choose real flowers soon.

We will get back to the flowers later. In the meantime, life went on as usual for the Carmens, which meant kids on devices. The truth was that Caryn and Carl were more supportive of device use than most parents. Of course they monitored their children’s internet use, but they also appreciated much of what their children did on their phones and iPads. Hannah, in seventh grade, was particularly artistic, and she used her iPad to draw, design creative visual patterns, and to connect with other children her age interested in art. Hannah recently started an account on ArtisTik—a social media platform for teens and tweens to share ideas and to post their own work. Hannah’s talent came from her father, who used his parent account to offer Hannah advice and praise. Carl was not only proud of Hannah’s work, but of the connections she made with others. Joey and Jessie, twins in tenth grade, were very active on social media, but with their parents’ approval. Caryn and Carl saw social media as a way for their children to express themselves and to learn to communicate differently.

So the Carmen children were quite surprised when they were summoned to the kitchen for a family discussion. “Sorry, kiddos, but device use has gotten out of hand. For the next week, phones and iPads will stay with us. We will allow occasional use, but only if you ask permission and we agree. And social media is completely off-limits. No exceptions.” Jessie, the bravest of the kids, spoke up. “Mom? Dad? I’m a little confused. You guys always say that you support how we use our devices, including social media. What gives?” Clearly, Caryn and Carl were prepared for this question. Caryn turned off the lights and turned to her husband. “Roll the tape, Carl.”

For the next ten minutes, Carl Carmen led his children through a masterful presentation (with charts, pics and video clips!) of their children’s device misuse. None of the accusations were related to inappropriate internet use; the kids were just caught using their devices at the wrong times. “…and that brings us to Exhibit Q: Jessie and her friends staring at devices for 15 whole minutes without ONE WORD!” “… and here is Hannah, at the zoo, staring at an amazing picture her friend drew of a lion, INSTEAD OF LOOKING AT THE ACTUAL LION!” When the presentation ended (and after Caryn’s standing ovation; none of the children clapped), the Carmen kids said they understood the message and would not appeal the verdict. “Good,” said Carl, “show us you understand, and the devices will be returned.” In the meantime, Carl and Caryn replaced the fake flowers with real ones. (“Let’s see how long it takes them to notice this time!”)

For the next week, Hannah, Joey and Jessie did all they could to show their parents they understood phones shouldn’t replace real life. But they didn’t notice the new flowers. They “borrowed” their devices at the right times, and for the right reasons. But they didn’t notice the new flowers. They made sure not to ignore each other while texting or playing games, and they especially made sure not to ignore their parents. But they didn’t notice the new flowers.

At week’s end, the siblings felt confident, but their efforts were not rewarded. At the next family meeting (without a fancy presentation), Caryn and Carl explained their decision to continue holding on to the devices. “Kids, you did well, but you need to do better. Hannah, I’m happy you enjoyed the trip to the art museum, and we are glad you didn’t bring your iPad. However, you were too focused on the scavenger hunt you printed off the internet. You should have paid more attention to the actual art. Jessie and Joey, it was great seeing you hang out with your friends without using devices, but maybe watching three straight movies isn’t the best solution. Do better, guys.” (The kids still hadn’t noticed the flowers.)

The following week, the Carmen kids finally got it. When Jessie’s and Joey’s friends came over, the group settled on the front lawn and just hung out. Their laughter could be heard down the block by Hannah and Carl, who were out for a walk. They strolled around the neighborhood, admiring the flowers and trees and then headed to the zoo. “Dad, do you see the colors on this toucan! Dad, look at how the giraffe takes care of her babies! Wow, look at the stripes on that tiger!” Someone watching would have thought this was Hannah’s first time seeing such animals.

Carl and Hannah stayed until the zoo closed and then headed home. As they pulled into the driveway, Jessie and Joey and their friends were saying goodbye to each other. Caryn stepped out onto the porch to let everyone in the house. But as the kids reached the steps, they stopped, and with one voice, exclaimed, “When did these new flowers get here?!”

The Mishkan, whose construction begins in this week’s parsha, is called “Mishkan HaEdut,” meaning “Resting Place for the Testimony.” From the Luchot (known as the “Luchot HaEdut” too!), to the cloud and smoke of the ketoret, to the limited number of people allowed inside, the Mishkan served as a reminder of Har Sinai. The Mishkan was a way for Bnei Yisrael to create their own “traveling Har Sinai experience.” However, the Mishkan was only a reminder—a testimony to the real thing. Like Hannah’s friend’s lion and Jessie’s and Joey’s online friendships, the Mishkan could not replace a real encounter with Hashem. This explains why the Mishkan cannot be constructed on Shabbat. Shabbat is a day with Hashem. Shabbat is the Real Thing.

Healthy online friendships, Instagram followers, and social media influencers with positive messages are great, but actual friends are the Real Thing. Texting memes is great, playing basketball is great, but spending quality time with friends is the Real Thing. Photos of nature are great, photos of nature without filters are even better, but experiencing Hashem’s world is the Real Thing. Keep finding ways to enjoy life, but never let those activities replace what is real.

By Yair Daar

 

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