THE BLOG
01/29/2013 05:45 pm ET Updated Mar 31, 2013

The Techie Terror: A Rabbinic Lesson From Die Hard

The following review is part of the Kosher Movies project, in which Rabbi Herb Cohen gleans life lessons from the world of film.

The computer teacher, the techie, is often the most powerful member of the teaching staff in a high school. He controls the keys to the kingdom of the Internet. He can enable teachers and students to enter the portals of Google, Wikipedia, and a variety of social networks. He can expand their worlds.

As a school principal for many years, I observed the transformation of the school office via computer applications. Instead of two or three secretaries, we eventually needed only one. Instead of dictating speeches and correspondence through a Dictaphone machine, we now wrote and corrected our own material using Microsoft Word. Furthermore, we mostly used the more convenient and speedy electronic mail rather than snail mail, which was slower and used so much paper. Currently, when I have to inform my parents and students in Israel of school news and changes in class schedules and syllabi, we use email and social media outlets, not letters or phone calls.

The computer guru, in truth, can be a beacon of light bringing wisdom and enlightenment to the world, but he can also be a sinister force for evil if he uses the computer to lord over others and take advantage of them. In truth, the computer can be a powerful means to control and shape politics and economics in a destructive way. Such is the premise of Live Free or Die Hard, part of the Die Hard series of movies starring Bruce Willis. In it, a computer genius, Thomas Gabriel, designs a plan to create worldwide chaos so that he can profit from the ensuing panic and destruction. Can he be stopped in time is the classic question in this formulaic but exceptional action-packed thriller. Gabriel begins by sabotaging the nation's infrastructure. Traffic signals malfunction, trains and planes come to a halt, the stock market closes, and the financial systems of the nation are breached. He then launches a plan to take out the nation's power grid. Gabriel is able to do this because, as a former national security director responsible for building the security systems, he knows the systems inside and out, including all its vulnerabilities.

Why is he so hell-bent on causing so much human damage through computer manipulations? The back story informs us that many years earlier he attempted to interrupt a Joint Chief of Staffs meeting to share his professional expertise and to point out weaknesses in the nation's security system using only his laptop. At the time, he was rebuked and publicly humiliated. As a result, he now wants to show all those who mocked him that he truly does have the power to control events and they do not. He wants money and he wants revenge.

Watching this film reminded me of the many people I have observed in positions of power. The best of such people work selflessly for the community with no personal agenda. The worst see the possession of power as an opportunity for payback, to control, and to intimidate. It can be very scary for one who falls within their orbit.

The Talmud tells us in many places that the possession of power brings with it responsibilities. The classic example is King David. He does not seek kingship. Rather it is thrust upon him, and he struggles to leave a positive legacy. He is not perfect, but he tries to be loyal to God and beneficent to his subjects. All he wants is for his people to actualize their spiritual potential, to be all they can be. David understands that power may corrupt, and that it is wise to temper power with an abiding sense of community responsibility. Power is neutral. It is our job to harness it for good.

Rabbi Herb Cohen was a principal at Jewish high schools across America for three decades. He now resides in Israel and blogs weekly about the intersection of faith and film at KosherMovies.com.