Can we just check the rules for modern living, please? When you get the Covid jab, you have to post it on Instagram or it won’t work, right? If the local barista is tardy, you have less than one minute in which to tweet “why can’t @nonamecoffeeshop ever get my order right? #sloppycoffee”. In times of a personal crisis, it is essential to provide frequent updates and TMI photos multiple times a day on Facebook.
Of course, I get it. A problem shared feels a little lighter. You will get some truly compassionate responses- and maybe even some real assistance. When the crisis runs deep, though, empathic friends and/ or a good therapist will do much more for you than “sending love and light” replies and sympathy GIFs.
Perhaps I’m biased. I’ve always been camera shy when it comes to personal stuff. Personal struggles feel, well, personal. Personal is sacred; once you splash it all over the internet, it’s more tabloid than intimate, not true?
No, I’m not suggesting that you delete your online presence (yet). What I do think we should all do (yes, myself included) is rethink what gets shared where and to who.
Consider one of Judaism’ greatest characters, Aaron the High Priest, brother of Moses. He was at the launchpad of his super-spiritual career when double tragedy struck. Poised to step into the role of ambassador to G-d’s embassy on Earth, the Mishkan-sanctuary, Aaron suddenly lost two of his four sons. As their warm bodies lay on the Sanctuary floor, he had to choose between an emotional meltdown or focused commitment.
Had it been me, I’m sure I would have collapsed into an incoherent, twitching stress ball. Aaron, the Torah reports, was silent.
Silence could, of course, mean a range of things. Silence could signal disbelief or overwhelming shock. For someone with an ironclad gut and stark commitment to G-d, silence could imply humble acceptance.
Rashi — the foremost commentator on Torah — sees Aaron’s silence exactly that way. He suggests that this is why G-d addressed Aaron personally (not via Moses) in the next stanza. G-d wanted to recognize Aaron’s steely resolve not to allow personal emotion to cloud G-d’s special day.
Nachmanides argues that Aaron first reacted as any person would. He cried, but then composed himself in acceptance of the Divine decree.
Whichever way you look at it, Aaron’s silence appears superhuman. Who does that? Who could conceive of remaining tight-lipped during an emotional tsunami?
Now compare Aaron’s stoic response to excruciating personal loss with our modern social-media-fuelled tendency to overshare.
Sure, none of us is Aaron’s spiritual peer. Still, the Torah only shares stories that carry pertinent lessons (that’s why it’s called Torah, from the root for “lesson”). G-d holds up a light to Aaron’s behavior to give us a Torah-based EQ goal for trying times.
None of us responds the same to a crisis. Some wail over a loss, others bottle up and some even giggle. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to feel or express grief. Nachmanides recognizes that our instinct is to first react with raw emotion. What we do next is what counts. Aaron doesn’t stay with crude emotion for long. He gathers his wits and chooses a meaningful response.
Social media, by its impulsive like-button nature, encourages unbridled expression and snap responses. Aaron’s stoic response challenges us to manage ourselves differently.
Rashi’s grandson, Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir makes a fascinating observation: Not only did Aaron not get stuck in self-pity, but he immediately redirected his pent-up feelings into service in the Mishkan. Rather than retreat to a shiva house, he ran headlong into service in G-d’s home.
In Yiddish, they say that when it hurts, you cry. That’s a natural response to pain- you scream for all the world to hear.
Aaron’s initial cry of pain.
A more developed response is what the fifth Chabad Rebbe demanded of his son. As he drew his final breaths and saw his son pale, he demurred, “Mind over matter”. In other words, “Don’t collapse emotionally when you face a crisis”.
The ultimate goal is to translate the energy of emotion into meaningful expression. Aaron turns from his grief to serve in the Tabernacle. In our generation, we see this is in the Holocaust survivors who share their darkest nightmares only to inspire others.
In 1956, an Arab terrorist murdered five schoolchildren and their teachers in the newly established town of Kfar Chabad in Israel. The pioneers of that hamlet were devastated. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, who had established the Kfar, advised them that building up the village would bring them comfort.
Social media is a powerful platform, where you can become a banshee of calamity or a lighthouse of inspiration. We can choose to use the platform to shop for sympathy or to share our struggles to motivate others.
We’re fresh from Pesach when we share our national heritage of targeted persecution. We recall a bloody history and remind ourselves that we still have many enemies. We do this, not to bemoan our Jewish fate. We do this not to appeal to our host nations for sympathy. We celebrate Pesach to inspire our children that we can- and must- transform adversity into opportunity.
Aaron’s example should inspire us to re-design our social media channels to look more like the Haggadah than like Hamlet.