What Jews can learn from Facebook
I believe a most profound truth of human existence lies behind the Facebook phenomenon.
Well it’s official: Facebook has taken over the world. Everywhere you look you can see that blue F logo; and everywhere you turn someone is talking about something they saw on Facebook. Last year, 880 million different people visited Facebook’s site – yes, you read that right, 880 million different people! And when you factor in multiple visits, get this: Facebook registered over 1 trillion page views.
And while just about everyone seems to be jumping on the Facebook bandwagon, there are some who remain ardently anti-Facebook. I don’t want to embarrass anyone, but if I had to guess there are three kinds of people in the world who don’t have a Facebook profile:
1. The kid who is dying to have a Facebook page, but their parents won’t let them yet because they are too young.
2. The non-computer type: if you don’t do ‘the’ email, chances are you don’t do ‘the’ Facebook either; and there is something to be said for ‘actual’ friends who send ‘actual’ letters to your house.
And finally, and most significantly, is the third group –
3. The I don’t understand why anyone would want to post inane personal details online for everyone to see, and furthermore, I don’t understand why anyone else cares what someone else just bought, where they are eating dinner, or what their kid just said.
It is hard to argue against that last point. For all that social-networking has done to bring people together; it has also damaged our collective sense of what is appropriate for public consumption. Despite this however, I believe a most profound truth of human existence lies behind the Facebook phenomenon: our desire to be known.
I want people to know that I am spending time with my kids at the zoo; I want them to know when I am angry at how slow the line is at Whole Foods; I want them to know when something joyous, something mundane, and yes, when something tragic happens in my life. It is a very human desire to want to communicate these details of our lives, and often we will rely on anyone (or anything) who seems willing to listen.
But I’m not the first person, nor the smartest person to have expressed this insatiable human desire to be known. It was said first - and best - by Abraham Joshua Heschel.
“The purpose of prayer,” says Heschel, “is to be brought to His attention, to be listened to, to be understood by Him; not to know Him, but to be known to Him. . . . To live in the light of His countenance, to become a thought of God – this is the true career of man.”
And so as you read this, I want you to join me in imagining a twenty-first century life of prayer by asking the question, “What if our prayers became more like our Facebook profile?” What if instead of having 560 friends, you only had one: One friend with a capital ‘F’. Do you think we could learn to be as open and honest with our God as we are with our Internet friends? Instead of being known by the world, wouldn’t it be nice to be known by the Author of the world?
I believe it is time to make our prayer life more like our Facebook life. In fact, think about how often our Facebook posts are similar to moments of profound prayer. That picture we take of our ripening tomatoes on the vine. That picture of you and your partner at the top of Machu Picchu. The indescribable sadness which overwhelms us upon hearing the news of a loved-one’s passing. That picture of our child that makes us stop, pause and thank God that something so perfect, so beautiful, so intensely inspiring could ever have come into our lives. These are moments of Facebook brakhot, of blessings to God.
There are moments in our lives when a tomato ceases to be a tomato and becomes an expression of thanksgiving, “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who createst the fruit of the vine.”
There are moments of profound beauty when we reflect on the perfection of God’s world: “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who hast such as these in thy world.”
There are moments of sorrow when we realize how soft and fragile these things we call lives truly are, “Blessed art thou, the true Judge.”
And they are moments of triumph and joy when we recognize that there is no greater experience in this life than sharing a profound level of gratitude with the Creator of our ever-expanding universe, “Who hast kept us in life and hast preserved us, and hast enabled us to reach this season.”
For these prayers, God surely presses the ‘like’ button.
Rabbi Joel Seltzer is a rabbi at Temple Emanu-El in Providence, Rhode Island.