Time Out From Nomophobia

Part of a yearlong series on resilience in Jewish spiritual life.

Have you experienced a fear of being with out your hand held device? For many the modern influence most negatively insidious on life is the urgency creep of hand-held devices exemplified by the fear of being without them.

This is "NOMOPHOBIA," a portmanteau for "No Mobile Phone Phobia." For some it goes beyond fear, they are addicted to their smart phones. Like slot machines, our devices' sounds, colors and lights trigger the brain's endorphin "reward cycle," driving us to the next click, scroll and swipe. They're so addictive that some are pushing for addiction controls.

When devices supplant "live" interactions, reports abound that some spouses, parents, teachers and employers compare device attachment to a plague – prevalent, catchy and tough to cure. This plague analogy might be too much (these technologies also do great good), but it still holds.

This week's double Torah portion (Tazria-Metzora) tells of tzora'at, an ancient plague (in Hebrew nega, what we're "touched" by). Torah's tzora'at sounds like leprosy, but houses also could catch it. One touched by tzora'at was sent outside the camp to "dwell apart" (Lev. 13:46).

Dwelling apart wasn't just infection control: it was spiritual repair. Thus was born the retreat, the time out, the change of place to change circumstances and how we experience them. This idea flowed into Talmud (B. Rosh Hashanah 16b) and then the aphorism, "change place, change luck."

We don't need to change our physical place to change our circumstances and how we experience them – though there's much wisdom in the spiritual retreat and vacation. Then again, wherever we go, there we are. Which leads us back to "Nomophobia."

Resilience isn't about being plague-free – whether tzora'at, illness, smart phone or dumb phone (though do try giving devices a Shabbat rest). As poet Lynn Ungar put it, our eternal promise isn't safety, but that "we might, at last, glimpse the stars, brilliant in the desert sky."

That's our resilience lesson: it's the courage to call plagues what they are, then take initiative to exit from them however we can – into the open, perhaps to glimpse the shining lights beyond. Sometimes it means going out literally on retreat. Sometimes it means stepping out to an outsider's perspective on our inner lives – and calming all the rings, beeps and swipes so that we can truly see and hear.

Rabbi David Evan Markus