Leon Wiener Dow
Director of Beit Midrash at Kolot, Creator and Host of Pod Drash, Author of National Jewish Book Award Winner "The Going"

The Eternal Truth of Cyber Monday

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay.
Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

Even if you made it past Black Friday, here is Cyber Monday. The truth is, you’re lying to yourself if you think you can resist.

I use these words with precision: the truth is, you are lying to yourself if you think you can resist. That’s because, as Tristan Harris argues (in many places, but you can listen here), the game is rigged. Even those of us with resolute willpower cannot help but be outsmarted by supercomputers that can map our personality type and traits better than we can do ourselves, inching us towards decisions we don’t want to make. Or we thought that we don’t want to make.

It’s bad enough that the world lies. It lies to us all the time. We make assumptions about people from their outward appearance, be it the color of their skin or the shape of their body. We smile and pretend that we’re fine when inside we’re carrying deep pain. We assume that financial contributions correspond to a generosity of spirit. We conflate markers of external success with happiness. We craft an image of ourselves for the world to consume. Words and images are thrown every which way, and truth – where are we to find it? We thought we might find certainty inside ourselves, but Cyber Monday shows even that to be implausible.

The Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 97a) suggests that a total lack of truth will precede the advent of the messiah. Crafting a word play based on Isaiah 59:15 (“truth will be lacking [ne’ederet]”), the sage Rav says that truth will become like “flocks [adarim] and flocks” that just walk away. Given the paucity of truth in our world, perhaps we are on the precipice of messianic times!

The sage Rava then responds with a story that is as provocative as it is frightening. “I used to believe that there was no truth in this world,” he says. But then Rava met someone by the name of Tovyomi, who claims to have actually lived in a place called Truth. There, people only uttered truth, and no one died prematurely. One day, the neighbors knocked on the door and ask for his wife, who was in the shower. Saying so seemed immodest to Tovyomi, so he told a white lie. “She’s not here,” he said. Immediately their two children died. The townspeople understood that he had lied, and they asked him to leave.

A world with absolute truth, Rava seems to suggest, is a world in which things happen exactly as they should, when they should. We are light years away from such a world. (How many Cyber Mondays are in a light year?) Perhaps, in our world in which truth is so lacking [ne’ederet], the messiah is here?

I spent a few months mining some of the luminaries of the Jewish world, conversing with them in order to glean from their wisdom about how we can live in this world without giving into its lies. I interviewed Rabbis Angela Buchdahl, Lizzie Heydemann, Brad Artson, Sara Hurwitz, Jay Moses, and Yoshi Zweiback. You can hear my conversations with them – and others such as Dahlia Lithwick – in Season Two of Pod Drash. Join me starting December 2.

About the Author
Leon Wiener Dow is the creator and host of Pod Drash and the head of the beit midrash at Kolot. His book The Going: A Meditation on Jewish Law won the 2018 National Jewish Book Award in the area of Contemporary Jewish Life and Practice. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and their five children.
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