Lazer Gurkow

Social media craze

The Perpetual Party
Social media has turned life into one long party. We are always in public, always “on”. One mom, Alice Velásquez of Bargersville, Indiana, made a personal parenting decision last year in the privacy of her home. When her teenage children refused to clean up their rooms, she packed their mess in garbage bags and offered to sell it back to them for $25 per bag. Alice then made the mistake of posting her idea on facebook.

She said she only intended to share it with family and friends, but it went viral. Instead of her family and friends chuckling, the entire world, pro and con, let loose on Alice.

The way we use social media strips us of privacy. Everything is out in the open; from our underwear size to the age of our granny. Why hide it, right? Everyone has underwear and everyone has a granny, so what is so personal about these things?

Only it is personal. When our underwear size goes viral and we start hearing from total strangers about the size of our waste-line or the way we like our eggs done in the morning, we feel a little violated. When strangers crash my party, it’s no longer my party. When strangers enter my world, it’s no longer my world. We know we invite the world to comment when we hang our laundry out to dry on social media, but we don’t expect them to accept our invitation. We think naively that the world will understand that our posts are only meant for the few people we know.

My Space
When we go fully transparent and live in the openness of social media, we are always on display. We tire quickly of living in a fishbowl because there is no downtime. Everyone is always looking . . . and commenting. The problem is not that we lose our privacy. The problem is that we lose ourselves.

Home is where we go when we want to be ourselves. All day long we are available to others. When we need to refresh, return to our core and simply be, we go home. But when our home is a fishbowl, there is no home. Without a home, there is no place for me, and soon, the elusive me is lost.

At first blush, sharing myself seems good. If a little sharing is a little good, then lots of sharing is very good. Following that line, we conclude that sharing everything is the best. But that’s a fallacy. If I share everything, there is nothing left for me and if there is no me to do the giving, I can’t give.

Shabbat First
This gives us an interesting insight into a phrase found in our Friday night Kiddush liturgy. We raise a glass of wine and chant the Shabbat benediction, in which we declare, “Techilah L’mikraei Kodesh,” Shabbat is the first of the holy festivals. On the face of it, this statement makes little sense. Shabbat is not a festival and doesn’t belong in the same sentence as festivals. It isn’t before or after the festivals. Shabbat stands alone.

The meaning is that when the Torah sets out to enumerate the Jewish festivals, it begins with outlining the Shabbat. On Friday night we extol the virtue of Shabbat by pointing out that it is listed in the Torah ahead of the festivals.

But this explanation only punts the question down (or up) the line. The question now is why does the Torah mention Shabbat in its list of festivals? And even if Shabbat belongs on this list, why is it first?

Privacy Day
Shabbat is a day to return to our core; to turn inward. For six days, G-d worked to create the world. On Shabbat, G-d rested and returned to being Himself. He stopped working, and returned to being. We do the same. For six days we turn ourselves outward and engage everyone around us. On Shabbat, we return to ourselves, to the simple act of being. We plug into our core and reflect on the meaning of life. We reconnect with G-d. It is as if G-d invites us into His inner sanctum and says, come let us do nothing together. Let’s just be.

Of course, doing nothing with G-d is not a negative. It means transcending every engagement, every interface or interaction, and melting into our very core; that space where G-d and we are one. Shabbat is about vacating space within ourselves for G-d. Reminding ourselves that we are not here for our pleasure. We are here for G-d.

Festivals are the polar opposite. They are days of joy and openness. Jewish festivals celebrate G-d’s miraculous interventions to help His people. They are not about G-d receding from Creation and returning to being Himself, they mark episodes of G-d’s supernatural and miraculous engagement with Creation.

Festivals are thus the opposite of Shabbat, which only enhances our earlier questions. What is Shabbat doing on the Torah’s list of festivals, and why does it head that list?

Social Media
We have finally come full circle as we return to social media and answer our question. Social media is a fabulous tool, when it is used properly. It helps us stay in touch with people we never see and stay abreast of their news. The success of social media depends on everyone posting. The more that people post, the more successful social media becomes. The irony is that you can’t keep posting without losing a part of your sense of self and if you have lost your sense of self, there is no you left to do the posting.

Ironically, the message of social media should be, stop and think before you post. Distinguish between what belongs in public and what should remain private. Where do you need to draw the line to preserve your sanity and your very sense of self? You want to give everything away, but remember you need to keep something back in order to preserve your sense of self.

This is why Shabbat belongs on the list of festivals and at the head of that list. You can’t give and share during the festival unless you have a self who can do the sharing. You can’t live in festival mode every day, which is why there are only so many festivals in a year. But if you want to succeed in festival mode, make sure you observe Shabbat. Make sure you plug into your own space, your own headspace, and preserve your sense of self, before you embark on the sharing of the festival.

The irony is that by reverting to our inner core and finding our truest self, we are able to give and share from our deepest place. This is because ultimately the core of each individual is the collective core of humanity. At our deepest point, we are a seething mass of oneness rooted in the oneness of G-d. So, by finding ourselves, we ultimately find each other. By focusing only on others, we lose not only ourselves, but all others too.

About the Author
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a renowned lecturer, serves as Rabbi to Congregation Beth Tefilah in London Ontario. He is a member of the curriculum development team at Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and is the author of two books and nearly a thousand online essays. You can find his work at