The Almighty and Google

The Almighty and Google


Rachel LaVictoire
Rachel LaVictoireD’

Here are some interesting facts I just learned:

— Breakfast, as we understand it today, didn’t exist for a large part of history.

— My high school in Atlanta is 555 miles from my college in St. Louis.

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— The first Curious George book was written in 1939 and since then over 3 million copies have been sold in 16 different languages.

— A company called MaKey MaKey developed a circuit board that gives users the power to turn anything – a banana, a ball of Play-Doh, a coffee mug, anything—into a functional keyboard key.

It took me less than 30 minutes to learn all this trivia because we now live in the age of Google and, therefore, have an incredible wealth of knowledge at our fingertips.

Need directions? Google it.

Forgot your calculator? Type the math equation into the Google search bar.

As far as I can tell, Google has the capacity to brief me on just about any topic I could ever be curious about.

Notice that I write “just about.”

Everyone has had this experience: you type something into Google, and it just doesn’t give you anything that satisfies your curiosity. You think it’s your fault, so you reword your search and try again.

Still nothing!

Your frustration grows as you repeat the exercise, trying to come up with the correct way to articulate your question because, obviously, the answer is out there if you can simply find the right words to type into the computer.

You never think for a second that maybe, just maybe, Google doesn’t know.

This past week, Rabbi Joel Alter, from the Jewish Theological Seminary, visited Wash U to host a discussion. He provided those of us in attendance with two choices of topics and after a vote, we decided on “TMI: The Unknowable in a Google World.”

The plan was to spend a Wednesday night eating dinner and talking about “knowing” – what we can’t know or shouldn’t know, what we do know about G-d, and how our ever-expanding breadth of knowledge impacts our views on Judaism and the Torah.

Unfortunately, trying to put together, and keep together, a group of students on a weekday night during midterms is a near impossible task, so we really only touched the surface of the topic.

I’ll start, however, with this bit of info: a Google search for the word “God” produces about 907 million responses in 0.2 seconds, and a search for “God of the Torah” – an attempt to narrow the results – still produces more than 12 million responses in the same amount of time.

But even if, by some incredible feat, I was able to read all 12 million responses, I still wouldn’t “know” G-d because knowing G-d isn’t like knowing the date of a historical event or the number of miles between two places; it’s much different.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeira, G-d visits four different people. First, G-d comes to Abraham and Sarah in the form of three angels disguised as men:

“Now the Lord appeared to him in the plains of Mamre, and he was sitting at the entrance… And he lifted his eyes and saw, and behold, three men were standing beside him” (Genesis 18:1-2).

Then, in the land of Sodom, the same man-like angels appear to Lot, Abraham’s nephew, to save him when G-d destroys Sodom:

“Whom else do you have here?… For we are destroying this place, because their cry has become great before the Lord, and the Lord has sent us to destroy it” (Genesis 19:13).

In a third instance, G-d appears to King Abimelech, without angels, in a dream; and finally, after being driven out from Abraham’s house, Hagar was visited by an angel of G-d.

In all four instances, G-d does not actually appear to anyone. In three of the four situations, G-d sends angels in his place; and in the other, He appears only in a dream. Why?

Because, I think, humans simply aren’t capable of meeting up with G-d “face to face”. In Exodus 33:20, G-d explicitly says, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

Kabbalah, the teachings of Jewish mysticism, explain that our inability to see G-d results from the difference between the indefinite and the definite. G-d is referred to as the Ein Sof, the Being with “no end,” whereas we, human beings, are limited.

According to this line of teaching, our world, with all its limitations, does not have the capacity to display G-d in His entirety. G-d, therefore, is said to be concealed by the Torah and by Mitzvot and it’s only in this concealed state that G-d may show Himself to the world.

So, we can’t come to know G-d through Google; I think that’s fairly indisputable.

We can, however, use technology as a gateway. As far as I’m concerned, my “knowing” of G-d grows each time I study the Torah or perform Mitzvot, or even sit down to a meal with my family.

This is because in my mind, “knowing” G-d involves creating a personal connection to Him. In this way I can “see” him in a very real, but metaphorical way.

I can Google Jewish philosophers and various schools of thought; I can find eText versions of Jewish scripture; and I can translate pages of writing, or individual words. We can all grow to know a lot about Judaism, which in turn will help in our “knowing” of G-d.


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