precious possessions are the result of our precious actions

I find this idea from yesterday's Hayom Yom deeply moving:
The Alter Rebbe said: Jewish physical matter is spiritual. G-d gives us material bounty for us to transform into something spiritual. When occasionally it is not so at the moment (G-d has not provided the material wealth), then we must give G-d whatever we can, even a "pauper's offering," and then He gives generously.
I find the fingerprint of such interactions throughout my life when I look back on everything that has befallen me in the past six and a half years since I moved home.

Side note: It also explains the seemingly obssesive way in which the Baal HaTanya strove to ensure that Napoleon didn't get ahold of a single one of his possessions. (Seen in Yitz's phenomenal post on Heichal HaNegina)

Just to countenance the idea that our physical possessions are something spiritual takes my breath away. We live in a society of such wealth that most of our physical possessions mean nothing to us. I've spent an important part of my life deriding the value of physical possessions. I've lost money, technology, sifrei kodesh, and other possessions to theft and accidents. [I was happy to find the things I cared about the most were the sefarim (the holy books) --that I was hurt HaShem felt the need to strip me of them.] We purchased a coffee table last week for 195 NIS (less than 50 USD) as a placeholder until we find one we really like. I have to, we all have to, take these words of the Baal HaTanya into the depth of our hearts, and value once more the manifold blessings which God bestows upon us daily.

As it stands now, out of our possessions, only the expensive irreplacable ones really matter, fancy jewelry, hi-tech gadgets, computers, and data. Data's becoming wildly important to us. I might have just lost all the data from when my wife and I were planning our wedding. That hurts more than losing a bag or a good pair of jeans, or even the suit/tie from that same wedding. I don't think the wedding dress means as much to me as the data from starting my life with her. (The wedding dress only has value in that it means something to her.)

Not only do we have to heal the break between us and our possessions, we also have to delve into this idea of possessing data. We need to understand what implications our interaction with the data actually means, in terms of God. In terms of his daily blessing. Manuscripts are quickly becoming a thing of the past, all our writing is digital. I care more about the writings of my father and father's father, than for a jacket they may have worn. (For that matter video and photos also come before probably any of that.) If I had to choose I'd want their data. How does that square with God and our possessions?

Here's a very quick reflection: (because the size of this post is quickly becoming mythical)
In a very rough sense, Jews have hoarded data for years. We have preserved texts of Torah far longer and in far larger quantities than anything or anyone else on the planet. How do we give God of these possessions, of these blessings, when they can be given without being lost? With Torah, simply the learning of it, and so much moreso the teaching of it is the avodah that we give to God. But that's Torah. What about our personal data. Perhaps preserving, organising and condensing it, extracting useful information from it for our future generations, to teach them what it is to be what we are. Perhaps that's how we can give of our data. This is true of our lives as well. We give of our lives by making our lives into something others can learn from. Nowadays the line between our data and our life is quickly diminishing. The data is the record of our life.

This can also mislead us, because the data consoles us against the loss of the life. Once the person is gone, at least we still have their memories, the affect they had on those around them. We might think the loss of data is the loss of that life. It isn't at all for two major reasons: A person doesn't live in a vacuum. Like I said, those around the person bear the imprint of that person, and the affects those people have on others in turn ensures that we are always influenced by those who came before us. There's no way to remove someone from the world. The second major reason is that God records the existence of that person. Their soul persists.

We're getting into the Zohar that the air of Gan Eden(heaven) and the air of Gey Hinom(hell) permeate the world around us and record our every good and evil deed respectively. The data cannot be lost. Although, acts of Teshuvah or acts of Hillul HaShem (chas v'shalom!) actually can erase said data.

My final thought is this: Data on it's own is only one level removed from ideas on their own. Ideas and data both deserve preservation, but it is what we do with the ideas and the data that is important. Physical possessions are the result of some action, something has already been done. If what was done was something good, then that physical object that was the result of that action is forever a testament and a vessel for God's blessing. Likewise the reverse is possible. (chas v'shalom) Our possessions should be precious for just that reason. Our actions and our deeds should result in things that are precious to us. Our developing relationship with God over time through acting in this world should be precious to us. Data is generally still potential and not actualized. (ie. 3000 photos of anything is potential, an organised work created of those 3000 photos is an actual artefact.) Similarly, time and life are crucial aspects of the value of our possessions: the more of our life, the more of our time we put into these possessions, the more they are worth to us. (The mishna says a person values his own produce six times (i think it said six) more than his neighbor's produce, even if it has the same monetary value.) The Baal HaTanya is also telling us to invest ourselves wholly in actions that will bring about possessions that will be precious to us.

[the Baal HaTanya's simple lesson is still light-years more profound than everything I just typed--i'm not at all surprised, just happy I got to learn that piece of Torah in my lifetime.]


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