As creepy as the title may be, surveillance is becoming more and more normalized. I’ll never forget going to a small shop and speaking to the store clerk about a particular item. Now, this was no commonplace item, and all I wanted to know was how much it cost. He told me the price, and that was it. Several hours later, guess what Ads were popping up in my Facebook feed?
We often think that many things are mere coincidences, so we remain unaware and complacent. That day at the store, I did not do a search using my electronic device. I did not pay for anything by cash or card, and I did not give out any personal information. I just asked the question. So, how could Google Algorithms know which Ads to populate in my feed?
The answer is clear and simple: It had to be my Google Assistant eavesdropping on my conversation. Every now and then, “she” pipes in saying something like, “Sorry, I did not hear that,” or something of the sort. It always creeps me out whenever that happens. Sometimes I snap back and say, “I wasn’t talking to you. This is none of your business!”
It would seem that privacy is no longer sacrosanct. At the very least, it is probably unrealistic to expect to have a reasonable right to privacy as long as we have these smart devices that are operating incognito even when we are not using them and can use voice recognition to “listen” in on our conversations. Then the next thing you know, your email and social media are bombarding you with advertisements of things you mentioned in your private conversations. It was bad enough when they simply used your emails and searches to generate these Ads, but now they have taken it much farther. The question is, how far is too far?
For some people, this type of surveillance means nothing. They think they have nothing to hide, so it may not matter to them that others may be listening in on their conversations. On the other hand, others may just be a little creeped out and upset about this based on principle and not because they have something to hide. So be aware. Determine your own comfort level when it comes to this matter, and make whatever evasive maneuvers you need to in order to preserve your privacy.
There is, however, another kind of awareness that I want to bring to your attention. There is an inscription that is often inscribed over the Ark in Synagogues which reads: “Da Lifneh Mi Attah Omed.” It means, “Know before whom you stand.” We know that this is speaking of the Master of the Universe, but we can take some of that reverence of Him out into the world as His representatives.
Those who give themselves over to the service of Hashem will naturally come under scrutiny, both for good and for bad. However, do not be so preoccupied with being scrutinized that you forget to open your eyes and become aware. Sometimes, you will find yourself in the presence of greatness. Wouldn’t it be a shame not to recognize such a thing when it happens?
This happened several years ago. It was the first day of the semester, and I was excited to begin teaching the college introduction course to new students at this particular campus. As I walked to the door of the building, I was aware of feeling nervous and uncertain. I had no idea where my classroom was located because it had not as yet been assigned the last time I checked.
There was a gentleman walking ahead of me. He was dressed nicely in a suit. I did not know who he was, but he very kindly held the door for me and directed me to the receptionist. When he overheard me asking about the location of my classroom, he stepped in and offered to walk me to the room. He not only did that, but he also unlocked the room, turned on the light, and made sure everything was in order. He then mentioned his name and told me to let him know if I needed anything else before leaving.
Who was this man? I was so nervous that I did not quite catch his name, and I was too embarrassed to ask him to repeat it. I was very grateful to him, but I still had no idea who he was. A long time later, I discovered that he was the dean of the campus. At best, I thought he was just another instructor, not the big man himself! So there I was in the presence of greatness, in a matter of speaking, and I did not even know it.
You better believe that I used this experience to teach my students how important it is for us to watch how we conduct ourselves at all times because we could be in the presence of greatness and not know even know it.
Guess Who is Visiting Your House?
Many of us have such a lack of awareness that we can completely trample over others and carry on as if nothing happened. Years ago, I did a stint as a caregiver for the developmentally disabled. One of my clients wanted to be driven to church every Sunday. He specifically wanted to go to this Catholic church that was some distance away. I usually napped in my car or read something while I was waiting for the service to end.
One Sunday, someone took him to a Protestant church which was much closer, so I took him there when it was my turn to provide the transportation. Unlike the Catholic church with its large parking lot where I could remain inconspicuous in my car, There was no way for me to lay low due to ushers venturing outside to encourage/lure people into the building. I was persuaded to go inside, so I sat in the very back.
The service was unremarkable, so the next week, I decided to take my client there once more. This time, it was different. The young pastor began the teaching. He was talking about a Roman Centurion who was on his way to becoming a convert during the second temple period. A Jew by the name of Shimon was compelled to pay this man a visit via a vision he received while in a trance in order to complete the conversion process. The centurion also received a visitation from an angel who told him to send for this man Shimon. Not only that, he was told where to exactly to find him.
Why this drama? Well, as we know, Jews do not associate with Gentiles. I am being just a little sarcastic here; because, the way the young pastor explained it, I do not see how any of his parishioners could go home that day not hating Jews. He took the facts and twisted them into something that was designed to elicit negative emotions. He made it seem that the reason that Jews kept themselves separated from non-Jews during that time was that they thought they were better than anyone else. It was because Jews had a sense of superiority, blah, blah, blah.
Needless to say, I was sitting there growing increasingly angry. All I could think was, “You do not even know who is visiting your house today.” I can say that I have never really experienced prejudice because of my African ancestry, but I have heard antisemitism flow like water from all kinds of people. Many of them would probably deny being anti-Semitic. They may generally be good people, but that shows the level of the lack of awareness so many possesses.
The Seeing Tree
Today, New Years Day, January 1, 2022, I received a notification of a picture I took exactly three years ago. If you look carefully at the trunk of the tree just below the branches, you will see several knots that look like eyes. I don’t know how many times I passed that tree without truly seeing it.
The building behind it is a school. Two of my children attended that school. Three years ago, I went on an early morning walk to look around and see what I could see. On the way back, I stopped at the tree, and that is when I saw them: eyes! There were about six of them. I must admit that they scared me just a little bit, but now, they serve to remind me of the need to be aware and watchful.
Indeed, we are being watched more so now than ever, but we must never forget that we too need to be watchful and alert in terms of our personal conduct as well as for the purpose of safety. We must also be watchful over that which Hashem has entrusted to us as we await the coming of Mashiach.
It is my hope that you will be inspired to also see the beauty of the world around us even as we face the challenges ahead that could cause our vision and outlook of life to dim. The flowers will still bloom. The sky will still be blue above every cloud, and there is a Father up in heaven looking down while at the same time, walking right beside you to lead you in the way. Just open your eyes and look; then you will see.
A healthy, wealthy, and happy 2022! Shalom!