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Blasting the Worm

May 9, 2009 | by Rabbi Yaakov Salomon

Being hit with a major computer virus is no way to start the NewYear...or is it?

If you want to know how much RAM you need… don't ask me.

If you need information on which active-matrix display is best… look elsewhere.

Just mention "Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI) equivalent to the TCP/IP File Transfer Protocol," and you'll find me in a different zip code. Clueless, would be an understatement.

As a matter of fact, until fairly recently I hardly knew an Apple from a nectarine, or a Task Manager from Joe Torre. No. Computer literacy was not my strong suit. Still isn't. Oh, I can type an article (in a variety of lovely fonts and sizes), respond to email (occasionally using the "cut and paste" feature!), and even surf the Web (though mired in the prehistoric "Dial-Up" mode). I'm getting there, I guess, but if real trouble strikes, I'm like a late-night talk show host without any guests -- fumbling and helpless.

And two weeks ago, real trouble struck. At first, it seemed relatively minor -- one of those temporary glitches that every computer occasionally spews forth. But within a few days there was no denying it -- I had been infected, invaded, contaminated, polluted, violated, assaulted, attacked, and TAKEN OVER by the now infamous MSBLAST virus.

I sat at my desk, numbly staring at hundreds of emails from total strangers -- many from very small African countries.

"ME?" I wailed. "Little old me? The me who rarely goes online? ME? The proud owner of a hard drive that is still 98.6% free after 2 years? The me who often loses all of his work while trying to adjust his margins??? HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? Don't you have to live in the jungle to catch malaria? Why would a scheming and potent virus bother with little old me? Isn't that stuff reserved for behemoth users like Pfizer, Lexus, and Congress?"

In short order, I reached out to the techies in my life. I guess we all have them. Those are the friends and relatives who we never have enough time for. But when we need them…

Those are the associates who answer the phone, hear our voice, and immediately respond with, "Okay Yaakov, what did you do this time?"

We gulp. We chuckle uncomfortably. Sometimes we feign some feeble small talk before we mumble, "Just a quick question, Izzy. It'll just take 30 seconds."

Forty-five minutes later you're both floundering in a sea of cyber-disarray, not sure whether to declare wholesale surrender or courageously (or hopelessly) suggest, "Let's start from the beginning, shall we?"

And so, the advice began pouring in.

"Reset your drivers."

"Re-configure your properties."

"Change your default settings."

"Delete… defer…and RE-BOOT!"

"Just go online and follow the simple 42 step recovery instructions!"


Everyone meant well. And some people actually seemed to know what they were talking about. But by the time the dust had settled, several days later, my monotonous New Times Roman resembled actual Roman Times and my trusty laptop Touch Pad was now more frozen than a lifeless chromosome of Ted Williams. Motility was impossible. I was completely stuck.

In the ensuing days, I learned that I had actually not been infected by a virus at all. Turns out, it was a "worm." What is the difference? Don't forget who you are talking to -- I have no idea. All I knew was that I needed a remedy.

To end your suspense, the story does have a happy ending. But, far more important, the ending tells a critical story.

Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are just around the corner. These days of awe and reverence are marked by Jews worldwide with extended prayers, shofar blowing, and fasting. Most of us approach this segment of the calendar with feelings of dread and trepidation. And why not? If we truly believe that the Almighty actually sits in judgment of us during these holiest of days and determines our every accomplishment or failure, what else could we feel but fright?

Who among us has not been infected by a virus of the soul or a worm that freezes our memory and internal hard drive?

But maybe we need a little re-framing of our Holy Days perspective. Maybe there's another way to approach our day in court besides fear and apprehension. How about Opportunity?

Looking back on the year passed, who among us hasn't slighted a friend, spouse, child, or neighbor? Who hasn't planned vast, or at least some minor changes in one's behavior and failed miserably? Who hasn't forgotten, at various times, what it means to be grateful, ethical, faithful, or energetic? Indeed, who among us has not been infected by a virus of the soul or a worm that freezes our memory and internal hard drive?

God understands. He knows our limitations and our flaws. He recognizes our weaknesses and the trigger points that send us reeling backwards. And He says to us, "Return." Not only does He await and encourage our homecoming, he creates a process called Teshuva that actually gives us the chance to completely wipe the slate clean. With true regret, admission, and resolve we are able to start anew without any residue of past failing or transgression. A tabula rasa of the spirit. That is true mercy. That is Opportunity!

Eventually, the advice of the pundits worked. The worm was exterminated and my computer recovered. Even my Touch Pad -- the virtual legs of my computer -- became mobile again. The secret? An incredible little function that the gods over at Microsoft included in Windows XP.

Apparently, they understood that we mortals are quite fallible. They realized that the mistakes we make are sometimes so grave and so critical that patching them up would be fruitless and ineffectual. "Why not give our patrons a method for them to just wipe their slates clean and start over?" they reasoned.

And so they did.

They called it System Restore. A quick navigation through Accessories and System Tools brings you to this oasis of cyber havens. The startling and soothing instructions inform you that System Restore allows you to undo harmful changes to your computer…and returns it to an earlier time without causing you to lose recent work, documents or email.

No incantations, wands, or paranormal powders are needed. You simply peruse a calendar (included) and click on a date passed and Presto! All your settings are immediately returned to the way they used to be on that date.

The mechanism for complete restoration of the soul is available to us.

True. Teshuva does take a bit more than a pick and a click. But the mechanism for complete restoration of the soul is available to us. Viruses will always be trying to worm their way into our hardware. And new strains -- more virulent and complex -- challenge us to wage war and emerge triumphant. Perhaps that is the subliminal purpose of this far-reaching epidemic that has swept the world.

We may feel frozen, shut down, or bewildered by personal failures, dilemmas of mind or spirit, and dreadful world events. Terrorism rocks our symmetry of life. But God says, "Never give up. Even when you feel paralyzed, there is hope. You will be up and running again. The virus, no matter how persistent, can be eliminated. The system CAN be restored.

After all, "Teshuva" means "return." And we can all return to that place within ourselves when we knew we were on a higher level. It takes effort. It takes honesty. And you have to reach back a little and remember how really good it feels to be happy with yourself.

Just follow the recipe, and then add a good measure of prayer. And watch.

Thank you Aish HaTorah
for the millions of things I've learned from your website.
Pamela Kahane


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