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How My iPhone Upgrade Redefined the Meaning of Life

How My iPhone Upgrade Redefined the Meaning of Life

Where does life truly reside, anyway?


It was one of one of those grand summits in the journey through life, when the entire landscape is set before you in ultra-high definition. Suddenly, you know where you are, where you are going and what you have to do to get there.

I upgraded my iPhone.

It was hard. I wanted the new one. But I couldn’t let go of the old.

Hey, for almost three years I had spent my entire life with that warm metal device firmly in my hand, securely in my pocket, on my dash, or lying next to my pillow, measuring my every movement so as to report on my sleep patterns in the morning.

And now, the salesperson was telling me that I had to let it go. For a $70 discount off my new phone, all I had to do was just leave this old one behind.

“What will you do with it?” I gulped. “My entire life is on there!”

“What will you do with it?” I gulped. “My entire life is on there!”

“Don’t worry,” he said, “we’ll wipe it clean before reselling.”

My second gulp reverberated through the noisy store. Panic-induced tunnel vision blocked all visual stimuli other than the image of my precious device. The sweat was oozing from my palms; the panic shrilled in my voice.

Fortunately, the salesman kept his cool. Apparently, he’d been through this before.

“All that data,” he told me, “will appear on your new iPhone. All your apps, all your music, your e‑mail, notes, docs, pics . . . all of it.”

“Don’t I have to transfer it first?” I asked.

“That’s not necessary. It’s all in the Cloud.”

“The Cloud?”

Enlightenment began here. The salesman spoke:

“Well, not everything. The apps you purchased, they reside in the app store, from where they were first downloaded to your device. They’ll download again, as soon as this new device becomes attached to your ID. The same with any music you bought from the iTunes store, or books from the iBook store. That’s where they came from, and that’s where they still are. You could say, that’s their real place.”

“And what about everything I’ve created on this phone?” I was trying to sound contained, to act my age, and not doing a great job.

“The docs I’ve written? The pictures I’ve taken? The recordings I’ve made?”

“I’ve checked. Everything you’ve done is stored there in the Cloud. Even your personal settings.”

“And it’s safe there?”

“A lot safer than on your device. Your device has only so much battery, can only can live so long. But in the Cloud, it might as well be there forever.”

Then he went on with his Cloud pitch.

“And once it’s in the Cloud, it’s so much easier to share with others. On our devices, each of us is in our own world. We communicate, we interact, but the devices—they divide us. But there, in the Cloud, it’s all one. So easy to create that synergy that comes through sharing.”

At his instruction, I entered my ID and password into that cute little upgrade. I watched in awe as its very soul reappeared before my eyes.

Looking into his eyes, I saw he was confident and earnest. I trusted him. I had to move on in life.

At his instruction, I entered my ID and password into the cute little upgrade. I watched in awe as it connected with the Cloud. Within moments, my treasured contents began to appear, like dry bones rising to life from the dust. All the apps that had once resided on my old device, along with all that I had created upon it, even my personal settings, popped up, one by one. Its very soul reappeared before my eyes.

I held it in my hand and began to stroke its surface, interfacing with its buttons. Yes, it was my old handheld self, but so much more sensitive, so much crisper and brighter, speedier and spacier. Life had just moved up a notch.

Life. Yes, that’s pretty much what’s on there. There’s this new voice that doesn’t understand most of what I say. Messages I have little interest in. Tchatchkas that I have no clue what to do with. Life.

Only now, it’s a higher life.

I lay in bed that night, my iPhone carefully placed facedown next to my pillow (plugged in, and not under covers, as per the instructions—and in Do Not Disturb mode), and I wondered, “What is this body, if not the real me? Where do I really reside? What’s up with Body 2.0? And all that I create down here, where is that stored? Who am I sharing it with? Who are we, really? Who am I?”

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
Imagery by Natalia Kadish. Natalia is a surrealist artist inspired by the joy received from learning Torah and contemplating the infinite. See more of her art at
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Anonymous US Pac NW May 20, 2014

Excellent! Excellent! Excellent! Perfect metaphor for our personal journey how difficult it is to let go of the old ,release and embrace the higher level reaching toward us and we, petulant children having tantrums! Is the new toy better than the old, we cry? Trust, just trust and release.
Thank you,
Tara Reply

Lenny Gauteng SA March 11, 2013

Iphone's or any cell phone I lost all my info on my cell phone, so I know what it feels like to loose all your info.
It takes time to build up all the info over a year or two and wham, it's all gone. But, we are here to learn a lessen from what happens in our lives. Even with technology, we did not create this technology by our self, G_d helped us with the this technology or anything that you can think of. G_d is the Creator of all. G_d helps us to create anything that is for the good of our using it. The technology that we use today, can and has brought us the Book of Moses online, or anything that concerns G_d. I say thank you for the technology G_d has given us. Reply

Yaacov Philadelphia February 11, 2013

My writings are my essence, iCloud and being erased And the somber tone of this thread of conversation leads to a personal favorite, namely the epitaph of John Keats. "Here lies one whose name is written in water..."

The 'writings' are only present for the moment, the instant of actual writing.

We enter this world with a very small footprint...quite literally, if you think about the beautiful tiny feet and toes of a newborn. It would seem that in similar fashion the vast majority of mankind also depart leaving a very small footprint.

In choosing life as Moshe our teacher advises us, is the 'biggest footprint' or the 'smallest footprint' the proper choice for the culmination and completion of our days? Reply

Sientje Seinen Canada February 6, 2013

Icloud it is sort of disturbing when you write "its very soul appeared before my eyes"

Sounds like you transferred your love for the Lord G-d to this miniature Icloud, as you even stroked it. Isnt that a form of idolatry, when your possessions means so much to you that you are panic stricken that it will be erased or taken away from you? or does it mean you are putting your trust and hope in technology, instead of the Living God? sorry but I dont understand, maybe in a way I do, as I panic when I lose my car keys. :-) G-d bless Reply

Dr. Elyas F. Isaacs PhD,DPH,DDiv. New York February 6, 2013

One More The Internet begun during the 2nd World War was first DARPAnet, then ARPAnet and only after that the WorldWideWeb or Internet [look it up]. DARPAnet was designed to survive a nuclear holocaust with layers and layers of coverage making the term "multiple redundancies" its formative thematic norm.
I suppose surviving Armageddon is pious and devout or the converse.
Always yours, Reply

Barry Schwartz Hercules, California February 4, 2013

It's Was Just Like That It was just like that for me, Rabbi. Almost word-for-word. Our essence vs. our deeds. Nicely captured. "It's in the Cloud." ...I once read a science-fiction story about how the Cloud eventually becomes self-aware. If it comes true, G-d would know what to do. He already did, as I am coming to understand the Mystical roots of what you have to say. Many thanks to you for a beautiful story with a beautiful meaning. Reply

Sientje Seinen Canada January 29, 2013

re technology and storing of data Are you referring to that our life experiences are stored somewhere in the clouds, and that we are all accountable to the Lord G-d, so that when we pass over to the other side or cross the river of Jordan into the promised land, G-d judges us on the way we conducted ourselves here on earth, as it would be written in the book of Life? not sure what you mean by all that data you transferref from one Iphone to another, if that is the case could you then not add more data, or change some of it? Reply

Misie Atlanta January 28, 2013

"Reading the Story a Little Deeper" I know, Rabbi. I know from experience how it feels to write something and then have your readers completely miss the point you meant to make, and pick up on a different idea entirely and run with it.
Still, the point to me was the one about upgrading to sophisticated technology when so many people have no technology at all.. That is the point that got through to me.
I speak too from the experience of e-mailing myself photos thinking that that way they would be "forever" accessible.
I lost some after only a few years and have no idea if I shall ever see them again. Whereas my 50-year-old (and older) snapshots are still in my albums ... Reply

Bruce Portnoy, O.D. Illinois January 27, 2013

Your article frankly disturbs me. While there is a place for sophisticated technology, I fear it makes the path towards diminishing faith in a supreme being, whose memory banks far exceeds that of the "cloud,"a real threat. It's just a toy, yet people seem far too willingly to sacrifice something unique within themselves to succumb to the sweet allure of a device, most choose not to understand and that stagnates philosophical critical thought. Reply

Anonymous January 27, 2013

Rabbi! rabbi! the torah says to guard your life! it is very dangerous to stay for extended periods of time near that type of radiation, so to follow what the ultimate programer wants, avoid such dangers in the future Reply

Si Browning Texas January 27, 2013

Changes Dear Tzvi,
I love your story it is so true. It’s scary when faced with having to leave the old familiar things behind and go on to the new and better. I can just imagine that when the time comes and we meet our demise that we will be reluctant to leave this old familiar body for our new wonderful “upgrade”. G-d holds us in His hand, who we are, who we were and who we are going to be. Nothing will be lost that is of any value. We have say yes and take that first step before the sea parts and we move on to the promised land. Reply

Dr. Elyas F. Isaacs PhD,DPH,DDiv. New York January 27, 2013

Technology vs. ????? I've programmed computers since the 1960's. I've encountered everything from natural disasters to nuclear plant meltdowns. My own life has evolved inside, outside, & embedded within & without computers.
I asked for a "game", "Surf the Heme", a random flip through the venous-arterial systems landing at various anatomical locii with questions on what's that -- an atrium, an aorta, a synovial pack, a ventrical, & so on.
What comes back -- "Surf the Subway" -- a mind numbing visual nothing of "jumping virtual lumps on the track" or "grand theft auto".
If you think the ethos, motivation, planning, creation, support and use of computers is only "technology", you are hopelessly blind as to the reach & "spiritual extenT" of computer & even more so internet use [& abuse].

Anonymous January 26, 2013

iCloud! Just like heaven.

Well, until the iCloud crashes. It will eventually crash. Man made system grow and then fail.

It will. Blackberry did. Yahoo and Google did.

It will. Eventually.

Only for a few hours or for a few days. It will happen.

Just long enough to fill the mental hospitals. Reply

Paul J. Huntsville al January 25, 2013

Tzvi! You've done it again! "Another masterpiece of metaphor! Indeed, the body is only a genetic interface. My Kabalistic understanding is that Parents are chosen by the soul. The body exists in order to meet the specific goals of the soul that occupies it. The "True Self"- The "I", or soul of a person, is not dependent on the body for it's existence. The physical body is merely a "Server" of sorts, for the soul. You and I are about the same age, but I wish you were MY Rabbi! LOL"


Rabbi Tzvi Freeman January 25, 2013

Please, people! Please let me believe in you! Please read the story a little deeper!

It wasn't about technology. Or iPhones. Or radiation.

please... Reply

Yaacov Philadelphia January 25, 2013

Our Essence Is In Our Writings continued On further reflection, this discussion leads to a much deeper idea in Torah.

The field of "artificial intelligence" works with the idea that we are the sum total of our thoughts, experiences, feelings, etc., "our writings" in a manner of speaking. This is recorded in our brains and is essentially data. If a total and accurate data capture could be moved from one "body" to another, would you still have that person?

From our perspective, in terms of interaction and experience, it would probably seem like it. There are people who believe such ideas. But within Torah, kabbala and particularly Chabad chassidus there is a different idea. It is the distinction between essence and being, "Atzmus" and "Mahus".

If we apply the allegory of "the writings" and "the writer", "essence" would be the analogue of the "writings". "Being" would be the analogue of the "writer".

G-d's essence is in His writings, meaning the Torah. And even though Torah and G-d are one, it is not His being. Reply

Chaya Brooklyn NY January 25, 2013

Question for Rabbi Freeman Rabbi, do you believe that our obsession with our devices is a form of idol worship? In that we rely on it for so much, to the point where we say,"I can't live without it"? And secondly, I don't mean to sound like your mother but I hope u are aware of the radiation hazard of sleeping with your phone. Just sayin'. Reply

Yaacov Philadelphia January 24, 2013

We are our writings...In the news If you think G-d wasn't listening to this thread...
This just reported in the Wall Street Journal:

The scientists encoded in DNA—the recipe of life—an audio clip of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, a photograph, a copy of Francis Crick and James Watson's famous "double helix" scientific paper on DNA from 1953 and Shakespeare's 154 sonnets. They later were able to retrieve them with 99.99% accuracy.

The experiment was reported Wednesday in the journal Nature.

DNA could hold vastly more information than the same surface volume of a disk drive—a cup of DNA theoretically could store about 100 million hours of high-definition video.

Last August, researchers at Harvard University reported in the journal Science the encoding of an entire 54,000-word book in strands of DNA.

Absolutely mind blowing! Reply

Anonymous January 24, 2013

New IPhone Hi, I hear it's dangerous and very unhealthy to keep your phone so close to your physical body, especially for a long time as you described you did by keeping the phone by your bed. Please google this and stay safe. Reply

Brett canada January 24, 2013

youth group Brilliant connections. I look forward to using this article to engage a youth group.

It is certainly relevant to a large audience (mostly under 60 i think) but the value of presenting this to youth to reveal a theolgical understanding is high for sure!

Thanks for your Spirit led insight! Reply

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