To thine own selfie be true: Parashat Matot-Masei
Documenting our lives has never been easier. So many of us post on Facebook and Instagram, write personal blogs, send tweets and make a point to let the world know exactly what we are doing … each minute of the day.
How different this is from the ways we used to write about ourselves. I remember keeping several diaries with locks to ensure that no other person was privy to my personal thoughts and feelings when I was growing up. Public exchanges about our lives were limited to family members and friends exchanging letters, offering annual updates about who passed away, who got married, who was starting graduate school, who had given birth. Receiving one of those handwritten cards with a photo or two was a highlight during the holiday season.
There are those who still maintain some of these old school efforts, but in a world where we can publicize every meal we make or step our children take, how do we differentiate between the mundane and holy moments in our lives? What is really worthy of a status update? And do our tweets and Instagram photos reflect the true journey of our lives?
In this week’s Torah reading, Matot-Masei, God presents a unique blog. At first, we may read the verses of Torah as merely the list of rest stops that B’nai Yisrael, the Children of Israel, visit through their wandering. However, the rabbis give us a deeper understanding of their points of destination. The midrash says, “Write down all of the places through which Israel journeyed, that they might recall the miracles I wrought for them.” The Etz Hayim Torah and Commentary reminds us that the list of places includes crossing the Sea of Reeds; finding the first manna in the wilderness; the place where Moses strikes the rock; and the time when the people demanded meat from God.
Each place represents a major turning point for B’nai Yisrael. The list includes emotional crossroads, fights and tension between the people and God. The list also presents pictures of love, compassion, miracle and blessing. The highs and lows of life. All for the world to see; all for the world to learn from.
It is a list that helps humanity re-examine the ways we choose to document life’s moments.
Recently, I asked a colleague how he was doing, and he responded, “Getting by.” But he followed with, “Nicole, I don’t have to ask you how you are. I can just look at your pictures and read your posts on Facebook.”
Slightly embarrassed, I realized how right — and how wrong — he was. Yes, I post about life’s lessons and how they relate to our Jewish tradition. I enjoy sharing anecdotes about my family and pictures of my grinning children. But do my posts really reflect the complete journey of my life? Do they really reflect how I am feeling and experiencing the everyday? Do I include the moments when I feel ashamed by actions; the occasions when I am not proud of my words or deeds; the many, many times when dinnertime dissolves into screaming and children running around the kitchen table.
Confession time: Nope, I usually do not post about all that. My colleague opened my eyes to the ways I let the world into the public documentation of my life. Similar to the lists in the Torah, my posts are deliberate and selective. Dissimilar, my posts most frequently leave out the harder, sometimes most significant points in my life. The hurt, sadness, frustration and anger that we experience as human beings often leads to the most meaningful lessons in life.
Maybe, bit by bit, this revelation will allow us to reveal a little more of our true selves: the selfie that includes some frowns, the picture of the meal that nobody ate, or the major meltdowns of our little ones. Perhaps even our own major meltdown. Or maybe it will convince us to bring back the diary and remind ourselves that even if the world doesn’t know every aspect of our lives, the private pages of a journal are there to remind us how to be humble, how to be human.
In the morning service we recite, “Praised are You, Adonai, Our God, Ruler of the Universe, who establishes the footsteps of man.” We thank God, every day, for giving us the ability to journey this beautiful world. With its ups and downs and surprising twists, it would be a shame to not write down some of the most memorable moments and transformative lessons. It is a gift to recall the majesty of our lives — and an ongoing challenge in deciding how we share these personal adventures with others.
Rabbi Yochanan in Masechet Sukkah reminds us, “The feet of a person are responsible for him; to the place where he is in demand, there they lead him.” Just like B’nai Yisrael, may our feet lead us to places of miracle and meaning.
Will your steps be Facebook worthy? That part I leave up to you.
Rabbi Nicole Guzik is a rabbi at Sinai Temple.