From The Jerusalem Report, Jan. 6, 2020.
As a tribute to Rembrandt on the 350th anniversary of his death, I am launching my Rembrandt inspired cyberangels from Israel into thirty museums on five continents that have my artworks in their collections. I created the Global Tribute to Rembrandt blog to document these virtual flights.
What better way to launch my latest book Through a Bible Lens: Biblical Insights for Smartphone Photography and Social Media than to have the cyberangels on the book cover spiral up from a NASA satellite photograph of Israel as they emerge from a smartphone screen and fly to the four corners of the Earth.
The cover image based on my “Angels Ascending from the Land of Israel” computer-generated artwork in the collection of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem makes the Bible come alive. It is based upon the biblical passage “He had a vision in a dream. A ladder was standing on the ground, its top reaching up towards heaven as divine angels were going up and down on it.” (Genesis 28:12) We learn from the preeminent Bible commentator Rashi that the angels in Jacob’s dream go up from the Land of Israel and go down throughout the world.
The cyberangels begin their virtual flight from Israel Museum's Shrine of the Book, home of ancient Bible scrolls. They gain momentum by going up from the tallest building in Israel, home of Facebook’s R&D Center, until construction is completed for the 91 story Azrieli Spiral Tower in Tel Aviv shaped as a Bible scroll.
They arrive from Israel at the cafes of each of the thirty museums. Why cafes? The biblical words for angel and food are spelled with the same four Hebrew letters to teach that angels are spiritual messages arising from everyday life. Perhaps there is spiritual significance that museums that offer art also offer food.
In the Instagram “Your Daily Dose of Jewish Wisdom,” the words of Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, teach “The true purpose of all technology and modern science is neither convenience nor power, but a means to discover the Divine within the physical world.”
When the services ended, I ran to tell my wife Miriam that I discovered that my role as a male Jewish artist is to create computer angels. “To do what?” was her response. I reminded her of an article that our son Rabbi Ron Alexenberg had sent us a week earlier when he was archivist at Rabbi Kook’s House in Jerusalem. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, a down-to-earth mystic who served as the chief rabbi of pre-state Israel during the first half of the 20th century, described the light in Rembrandt paintings as the light of the first day of Creation.
I felt well equipped to create computer angels, that I call “cyberangels.” I was head of the art department at Pratt Institute, America’s leading art college, where I taught “Fine Art with Computers,” and research fellow at MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies where I taught “Developing Creativity for the Electronic Age.” I was a frequent flier on the New York-Boston route.
When it passed through Tokyo, it was already the morning of October 5th. After the line printed out on the top of the fax “Tokyo National University of the Arts, 5 October 1989” was the line “Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 4 October 1989.” Cyberangels can not only fly around the globe, they can fly into tomorrow and back into yesterday. They reshape our concepts of time and space.
Flash forward thirty years from the faxart generation to today’s ubiquitous digital culture of smartphones and social media. Unlike the era of fax technology when I sent my Rembrandt cyberangel from one city to the next on its circumglobal flight, today I am sending cyberangels into “The Cloud.” They then come down into thirty museums on five continents that have my artworks in their collections.
The Cloud describes a vast number of computers interconnected through a real-time communication network such as the Internet. The Cloud is a living network of networks blanketing our planet that closely expresses the biblical commentary that the angels in Jacob’s dream ascend into The Cloud and ccome down anywhere in the world.
“In the beginning God created et the heaven and et the earth.” (Genesis 1:1).
In the original Bible text, et precedes both heaven and earth. The Hebrew word et is spelled aleph-tav, the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet that encompasses all its 22 letters, like A to Z. In translation, et drops out since it is a grammatical form linking noun to verb with no equivalent in English. The first creation is not heaven. It is et, the spiritual media system with which God created everything documented in the Bible.
The Hebrew word for “in the beginning” is beresheet, akin to the word bereshet meaning “network.” Read the first verse of the Bible as “In the network of all networks, God created media systems for creating heaven and for creating earth.”
The second passage in the Bible is “When the earth was absolutely empty and dark, God created light and separated between light and darkness.” (Genesis 1:2) The et preceding “earth” represents virtual and physical media systems. The light created on the first day of Creation is a media system made up of just two “letters,” light and darkness, 1 and 0, on and off. It is the light being simultaneous revealed to billions of people worldwide as they swipe their fingers across their smartphone screens. This global media system, the virtual world, returns us to the primeval binary creation of light and darkness.
The physical media system, is written with electrons and protons that form atoms and molecules. Supersized molecules like DNA contain the code for all life forms written with two pairs of two letters: A-T, T-A and C-G, G-C, on the rungs of double helix ladder.
A cure for nomophobia is offered in the Bible’s commandment to observe a Sabbath day by turning off, tuning out, and unplugging once a week. It was an unprecedented concept in the ancient world with potent relevance in digital culture. Put your smartphones, computers, and tablets to sleep. Just tune in to God’s creations, enjoy family and friends, walk in the forest and fields listening to the songs of birds, watch the sunrise and sunset, and play with your children.
One day each week, stop doing, stop making, and just enjoy a day of rest. Delight in all that happens around you. Don’t seek out things to frame and shoot. Let them be. Shabbat is a divine gift to all people for all time. You are invited to observe Shabbat as a powerful way to free you from being enslaved by technological wizardry.
On the eighth day, return with renewed energies to being partners with God in the continuing creation. Enjoy being immersed in the amazing technological wonders of our era, knowing that you are free to tune out, turn off, and unplug on the next Shabbat.