In one of my recent searches for inspiring Jewish quotes- a habit which seems to have turned into a hobby in recent months- I stumbled upon one of my best loved verses from Pirkei Avos. It reads, ”Who is wise? He who learns from everyone,” and although this is not the entire quote, the other sentences contain multitudes which deserve their own articles. But this simple statement brings to mind the nature of the world we live in today. It reminds us of our place in this life. And above all, it reminds us of an important lesson in how to incorporate kedushah into our daily lives.
Living a G-dly life is no easy feat. Some believe that it can be done with the presence of modern influences; technological advances, scientific developments, and- taking it a step further- even secular society. Others believe that these things must be removed, and that we must isolate ourselves, to truly live in a Holy way which is pleasing to our Creator. I belong to the first group. Although I try my hardest to limit the influence of secular media, and avoid music, books and newspapers, I am grateful for the things which technology and science have brought into my life. Life saving medicines. Buses and cars. Computers which defy our expectations, every minute of the day. And, yes, the Internet, the ability to share thoughts and ideas with people thousands of miles away… it’s nothing short of a miracle, a sentiment which the Rebbe himself repeated often.
And as such, drawing upon Pirkei Avos 4:1, I’d like to expand the statement. Who is wise? He who learns from everything. Because everything around us can be used for good- or evil. Everything around us can bring kedushah into our lives. And yes, it might be easier to just ignore these things; internet, computers, technology. It might be easier to declare them ossur. But the real challenge isn’t just in resisting negative influences. It comes in the form of utilising influences which are neither positive nor negative; in finding the spark of kedushah which lies within, and turning it into something greater. This is the true meaning of learning from everything around us.