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Beit Midrash Family and Society Additional Lessons

The Lost Computer File

Rabbi Berel WeinKislev 9 5781
5
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Computers are a wonderful invention. In our current world, it is impossible to think how we would function without them. Even though until a little over a half-century ago we apparently did function very well without them, today it is unthinkable to think that we could somehow be productive and efficient without computers. Such is the nature of technological progress, that it not only makes past achievements and inventions obsolete, but it also makes past societies and ways of life obsolete as well.

Like all machines and inventions, computers are never perfect and are always subject to human beings, such as me, mishandling or making errors in the process of using them. And when that happens, we always tend to blame the computer when really we should blame ourselves for punching the wrong key or using the wrong application. Such a sorry event occurred to me last week. It was right in the middle of publishing a monthly newsletter that has a few hundred paid subscribers, and, from the feedback I receive, I estimate perhaps a few thousand people who read it. Every issue contains about 4,200 words divided into four main articles on current events and personalities. At my stage in life, it takes quite a bit of effort for me to put together this newsletter every month, in addition to my other writings – such as this weekly opinion article that I have obligated myself to produce. I take great care in writing this newsletter on my computer, and I always attempt to make certain I save it in a secure fashion, so that when I send it off to the printer, it is available for editing, correction and publication.

Regarding this last issue of the newsletter that I prepared for the month of December, I had laboriously written three of the four articles needed for the issue. I began writing the fourth article, and was well on the way towards completing it and having the entire newsletter prepared to be sent on to the printer when I attempted to correct one obvious spelling mistake that my dictating program allowed me to make. I pressed a number of keys on the computer keyboard to erase the mistake, and to type the corrected word. Somehow, though, I hit a few computer keys that omitted and deleted the entire 3500 words that I had already written. Since I had saved whatever I had written, I felt confident that I could retrieve it from the brains of the computer, and successfully complete the preparation of the December newsletter.

To my consternation, I could not restore what I had written, no matter what I did. I even had a number of friends of mine, who are much more adept and knowledgeable than I am about computers and who have successfully helped me in the past, come over and try and retrieve the lost articles that I had written for this issue. Alas, even these people of great expertise were unable to force the computer to divulge the missing articles. After a week of frustration, I bit the bullet and rewrote the entire issue, this time attempting to make certain to save every precious word in a separate computer file. And I kept on checking to make certain that the articles were retrievable.

I was successful in rewriting the entire issue, and, while doing so, attempted to make improvements over the original copy. And then, with a great sigh of relief, I sent the material off to my editor and printer in the United States. I allowed myself a moment of self-congratulations for being able to somehow overcome the frustrating adversity of a lost computer file. My computer expert friends, who as I mentioned are much more knowledgeable and skillful in dealing with computers that I am, admitted to me that sometimes even they lose a computer file. In fact, there are probably millions of lost computer files floating around in the ether of computer heaven or hell as the case may be.

I thought to myself that this is probably a mixed blessing, for there are undoubtedly many computer files that deserve to be deleted and never sent or read, while, at the same time, there are also many other computer files – and I like to think that mine would be among them – that really should have seen the light of day and should have been preserved. I am not certain what the great moral lesson involved here is, but it seems to me that the next step for civilizing computers is that it should have an inborn right of choice to decide which files it is willing to lose, and which ones should be published. I await that invention with bated breath.

Shabbat shalom

Berel Wein



Rabbi Berel Wein
The rabbi of the "HANASI" congregation in Yerushalim, head of the Destiny foundation, former head of the OU, Rosh Yeshiva of 'sharai Tora" and rabbi of the "Beit Tora" congregation, Monsey, New York.
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