William Hamilton
William Hamilton

Simmering brought to boiling

Human emotions. Social Media traffics in and profits from them.  Anger and fear on Facebook and Twitter.  Envy on Instagram.  Yes, online activity brings many good things to our world.  But consider how often simmering sentiments are brought to boil-over as a result of clips and comments. 

The business models of these platforms is to make themselves the place where human needs and desires can be met.  Aside from becoming addictive, what’s the affect of online activity on our emotional health.  Is more frequent exposure to acute emotions helpful?   Living at the higher registers of emotional intensity can make us more edgy.  We walk around on the brink.  We also risk depleting our appetite for feeling strongly at other important times.

This week’s portion of Torah features raw emotions like anger, fear, and envy. Following Jacob’s deception at the advice of his mother (Rebecca) which secures his father’s (Isaac’s) blessing, we encounter the Torah’s most agonizing wailing.  Isaac trembles a very big trembling and Jacob’s older brother Esau cries a very big and bitter cry (Gen. 27:33-34).  The pathos is palpable.  What follows?  Esau pleads, “Is there only one blessing that you have, my father?  Father!  Bless me too!” (Gen. 27:38).  Additional blessings are possible.  So too, a surplus of emotional life can be made available. 

The next time you view a comment or a clip that spikes your blood pressure, consider a few things.  Try to recall that an industry likes having this affect on you.  Try not to meet too many of your needs and desires on its platform.  Save some for non-screen-time human contact.  And try to remember to spend time living other emotions like exaltation, love, and thanksgiving.

A purpose of biblical psalms is “to give voice to religious emotion” writes Susannah Heschel.  “Where are hearts go, the psalms sing with us.” 

On this 29th of November 72 years ago, the UN voted to recognize the partition plan making way for a Jewish State alongside an Arab one.  “Joyous are those who sense awe…God will bless you from Zion and you will gaze on the hope of Jerusalem all the days of your life” (Ps. 128).

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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