I had a fascinating conversation with a few students over Shavuot. We discussed what people nowadays are really looking for. The phrase “connection” came up. People want to connect with others in a real way and never want to feel alone. The Facebook and Snapchat phenomenon of sharing everything, including what you ate for breakfast and where you ate it, has opened up a whole new way of experiencing life; a connected life is a better life because life is richer when shared with others! This is the kernel of truth that explains the explosive success and growth of social media.
But, we are falling short of its true potential and even falling into a trap of sorts. Life shared means goals shared. If we are going to live connected to each other, then our mission and goals should be connected, not individual. Posting a picture of a delicious breakfast overlooking the ocean on a clear morning is missing the point. It’s just “putting it out there” waiting to gain others approval and hopefully not their disapproval. Telling others how they can get one or even better, inviting them to share ours is what we should be posting. It’s an opportunity to move from selfishness and taking to community and giving. Maybe Facebook is G-d’s way of helping us do this?
The most famous lashon hara (gossip) saga started in last week’s parshah and continues into this week. Miriam complained to Aaron about Moses that he had wrongly separated from his wife, Tzippora. Moses had done so because of his unique ability to receive prophecy at any time. Something Miriam didn’t understand. As a punishment, G-d inflicted her with tzaraat – a miraculous type of skin infection. Like anyone who contracted it, she was not allowed to be in the area of the camp for a week until she healed (and that included no Facebook!).
In this week’s parshah we read about the spies, the 12 men sent to spy out the Promised Land before the nation entered it. Their sin was lashon hora, the terrible report they brought back about the land. The Midrash points out the juxtaposition of the two stories. Miriam was punished over matters of slander, for speaking against her brother, which spies witnessed, but they did not learn their lesson.
For Miriam, Moses prayed to G-d that she not be considered like the dead. The spies, however, were not that fortunate, and they were punished by death.
Just like a dead person has no social interaction, so too someone not free to live among others is considered dead. We are creatures of community. Our mission and goals are communal, not individual. We are meant to build beautiful and exemplary communities by helping each other, learning from and teaching each other and dealing fairly and honestly with each other. Our lives are becoming more and more connected; lashon hara, gossip, has no place if we are going to use this opportunity to build a beautiful world together.
Rabbi Nitzan Bergman is executive director of Etz Chaim: The Center for Jewish Living and Learning and founder and president of the WOW! program for young professionals.