Thursday, June 11, 2015

Parshas Shlach: Facebook & the meraglim, what are you hiding?

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Maybe you think this is the age of “let it all hang out,” when Google rules, your friends post their snacks on Facebook, and there are no secrets left in the world.

Believe me, there are still plenty of secrets. And this bold new world may have more in common with the world of the Torah than we’d like to believe, as this week’s parsha, Shlach, shows us.

That’s because what we share on Facebook and other social media is only a redacted version of our true selves. 

This isn’t a bad thing, but we tend to forget.  And then, we envy other people’s lives, just the way the Aseres Hadibros tell us we shouldn’t. 

If you’ve ever looked at a friend’s Facebook status and wished that was your life, you know what I’m talking about.

  • They’re having babies (and some of their kids are having babies, too!)… and I’m not.
  • Their kids – my kids’ age! – are getting married… and mine aren’t.
  • They’re getting promoted or starting great new jobs… and I’m still sitting here doing the same-old.
  • Their children are smart, talented, celebrated… when mine kind of aren’t.
  • They’re celebrating anniversaries… when my husband and I barely talk to each other.
  • (Or maybe, They’re getting married… when nobody seems to want me?)
  • They’re sharing biting and brilliant ideas about the world… when most days, I have all the insight of a potato.
  • They’re losing weight and attaining their fitness goals… while I sit here in pain, barely able to get out of bed most mornings.
  • They post inspiring quotes full of faith… when I just wonder about things way too much.

I once heard a rav say that we tend to think too narrowly about the Aseres Hadibros.  That whole thing about “lo sachmod” (not coveting)?  Yeah, it’s not just about houses or wives or donkeys.  It’s about the package.

He said that if we could see the other person’s whole package – the deal they’ve been handed in life; their upbringing, their family, their day-to-day lives; their health situation – we would probably not be so eager to trade, no matter what they post about themselves on Facebook.

By the way, it’s definitely a good thing that we filter our Facebook posts to keep out negativity.

You can see the real effect of negativity from this week’s parsha, Shlach.  The negative reviews of ten meraglim outweighed the good intentions and happy stick-to-it-iveness of two of the holiest people who have ever lived, Yehoshua bin Nun and Kaleiv ben Yefuneh.

Yup, negativity sure drags us down.

I wouldn’t want my whole newsfeed to fill up with yours, my, or anybody else’s kvetches.  But we have to remember that what people post tends to skew positive. Waaaaay positive:

  • POSITIVE:  Lose weight? Yayayayay! Like, share, love! 
  • NEGATIVE:  Gain weight? Maybe you'll mention it next week, if you can get it back under control.
  • POSITIVE:  Prepare a healthy organic meal from scrach for your family?  Hurrah!  Share, share, share! 
  • NEGATIVE:  Pour them a bowl of cereal and tell them if they don’t like it you’ll dump it on their heads?  Yeah, not so much sharing going on.
  • POSITIVE:  Travelling somewhere beautiful?  Here’s a picture you can drool over! 
  • NEGATIVE:  Sit around the living room sulking?  Well, maybe I’ll find a cartoon to share instead.

Which posts are you more likely to see on Facebook?

If only they’d had Facebook in the time of the meraglim, the newsfeed of bnei Yisrael would have looked a little like this:

  • Get a load of these FRUIT!!! (selfie!)

And things might have gone a little differently for all of us in the desert.

This tendency to keep our posts positive can also lead us into deep, deep covetousness when we forget that everybody else is carefully hiding the things they don’t want us to see.

What are you hiding?  What little secrets have you NOT posted on Facebook lately?

Here are a few of mine:

  • A child I love is on a strange and uncertain path that seems to lead straight away from Torah.  He’s having the time of his life; but I’m scared he won’t be happy with where he ends up (or am I scared he’ll be too happy?).
  • I have written so many books – poured my heart into them, really – why don’t more people buy them?  I’m scared I’ve wasted so much time for nothing.
  • Having discovered how much I love travelling around Israel, I have also discovered that I can no longer sit comfortably on a train for more than an hour.  Buses are worse.  I’m scared I’ll be stuck here in my house someday soon.
  • One of my helpful children found my first gray hair last night.  Can you catch progeria in your 40s?  I’m not ready to be old, but my body feels that way already, overwhelming me with aches and pains.

Reading through all of these, I can’t help noticing that they’re mainly all about “I’m scared.”

What you’re hiding – and I am, too – is fear.

“I’m scared” is one of the things that this parsha happens to be all about.  When the meraglim saw the giants in eretz Canaan, they didn’t say, “whoah, those are some big giants.”  They said, “נְּהִי בְעֵינֵינוּ כַּחֲגָבִים” (in our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers).

Maybe they’d suddenly gotten a glimpse of the giants’ Facebook walls:  big fruit, big families, big success in this big land.  And the fear of their own insufficiency made them feel tiny in comparison.

Yehoshua and Kaleiv knew this right away.  They said, “Oh, pshaw, giants?  Don’t be scared of them.”  They got pelted with stones for saying so.  (Okay, maybe they didn’t say “pshaw,” but they would have if they’d spoken English!)

But the other meraglim didn’t try to see the whole package.  According to a midrash, Hashem caused many giants to die before the meraglim’s visit to distract the giants with funerals so the meraglim would be safe.

Not the braggy-brag sort of stuff the giants would post as their Facebook status.  The sort of stuff you’d hide deep inside because it made you feel small.

I’m not telling you to be negative on social media.  Please don’t, especially if we’re Facebook friends. 

I’m just suggesting that you try to see the whole picture.  To know that the rest of us are afraid, too.  That everybody comes with a package. 

To understand that the giants aren’t so big… and you’re no grasshopper yourself.


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