The Imaginary World of Social Media (Shabbos 57)

King David was getting on in years.  And he was suffering from the chills.  No matter how many blankets he added to his bed, he was still cold.  Why?  Because many years earlier, when King Saul was pursuing him, he sneaked into the king’s camp and snipped a little piece off his cloak.  His objective?  To show Saul that he wasn’t out to harm him.  Even given the opportunity to take revenge, all he took was a tiny souvenir.  Nevertheless, on account of his disrespect for the royal robes, God later punished him with his own royal robes not keeping him warm. A young lady, Avishag was brought to the palace to help the aging king.

Meanwhile, taking advantage of his father’s distraction form the chills he was suffering from, his son, Adoniyah, decided to play king.  He declared his intentions to act in his father’s role.  That way, he’d be ready to assume the throne upon his father’s demise.

Nathan, the prophet, and David’s wife, Bathsheba were filled with consternation.  The king had promised that her son, Shlomo, would succeed him.  They decided that they must inform the king of the actions of Adoniyah. No sooner had the king heard than he declared that indeed Shlomo would be king.

Immediately, “they had Shlomo ride on King David’s mule and they led him to Gihon. The priest Zadok took the horn of oil from the Tent and anointed Shlomo. They sounded the horn and all the people shouted, “Long live King Shlomo!” All the people then marched up behind him, playing on flutes and making merry till the earth was split open by the uproar!”

תְּנַן הָתָם: וְאֵלּוּ חוֹצְצִין בָּאָדָם: חוּטֵי צֶמֶר וְחוּטֵי פִּשְׁתָּן וְהָרְצוּעוֹת שֶׁבְּרָאשֵׁי הַבָּנוֹת. רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר: שֶׁל צֶמֶר וְשֶׁל שֵׂעָר אֵין חוֹצְצִין מִפְּנֵי שֶׁהַמַּיִם בָּאִין בָּהֶן. אָמַר רַב הוּנָא: וְכוּלָּן, בְּרָאשֵׁי הַבָּנוֹת שָׁנִינוּ. מַתְקִיף לַהּ רַב יוֹסֵף: לְמַעוֹטֵי מַאי? אִילֵּימָא לְמַעוֹטֵי דְּצַוָּאר, וּדְמַאי: אִילֵּימָא לְמַעוֹטֵי דְּצֶמֶר — הַשְׁתָּא רַךְ עַל גַּבֵּי קָשֶׁה חוֹצֵץ, רַךְ עַל גַּבֵּי רַךְ מִיבַּעְיָא? וְאֶלָּא לְמַעוֹטֵי דְּחוּטֵי פִשְׁתָּן. הַשְׁתָּא קָשֶׁה עַל גַּבֵּי קָשֶׁה חוֹצֵץ, קָשֶׁה עַל גַּבֵּי רַךְ מִיבַּעְיָא? אֶלָּא אָמַר רַב יוֹסֵף, הַיְינוּ טַעְמָא דְּרַב הוּנָא: לְפִי שֶׁאֵין אִשָּׁה חוֹנֶקֶת אֶת עַצְמָהּ. אֵיתִיבֵיהּ אַבָּיֵי: הַבָּנוֹת יוֹצְאוֹת בְּחוּטִין שֶׁבְּאׇזְנֵיהֶן, אֲבָל לֹא בַּחֲבָקִין שֶׁבְּצַוְּארֵיהֶן. וְאִי אָמְרַתְּ אֵין אִשָּׁה חוֹנֶקֶת עַצְמָהּ, חֲבָקִין שֶׁבְּצַוְּארֵיהֶן אַמַּאי לָא? אָמַר
רָבִינָא הָכָא בְּקַטְלָא עָסְקִינַן, דְּאִשָּׁה חוֹנֶקֶת אֶת עַצְמָהּ — דְּנִיחָא לַהּ שֶׁתֵּרָאֶה כְּבַעֲלַת בָּשָׂר.

These are the objects that interpose for a person: Strings of wool, and strings of flax, and the straps that are on the girls’ heads. Rabbi Yehuda says: Strings of wool and strands of hair do not interpose because the water reaches the hair through them. Rav Huna said: And we learned all these, in a case where they are used to tie the hair on the girls’ heads. Rav Yosef said, this is the reason that Rav Huna restricts the concern for interposition to strings tied in her hair and not around her neck: Because a woman would not strangle herself when adorning around her neck. Therefore, she never tightens the strings or straps to the extent that water cannot reach the skin. Ravina said: Here we are dealing with a choker necklace.  A woman does ‘strangle’ herself with it because it pleases her that she will appear fleshy.

When immersing in a mikvah, there may be no substance separating the skin from the water.  Rav Huna teaches that cords around the neck are not considered a barrier to immersion, because they are not tied too tightly, since nobody would want to strangle themselves with a necklace.  Ravina explains that some adornments are indeed tied tightly, in order to accentuate certain physical features, even if it causes pain in the process.

Why would anyone cause themselves pain to look good?  Sadly, people do it all the time. There is no shortage of individuals so desperate to keep up with the Joneses that they will subject themselves to significant pain and suffering to maintain appearances.

It’s challenging to avoid becoming envious of others as they post their beautiful life experiences on social media. Expensive hobbies, luxurious vacations, designer homes and furnishings.  Happy children, adoring spouses, and perfect birthday celebrations.  How do you keep up with that? In an effort to do so, many people will submit themselves to considerable pain.  They live above their means, watching the credit card bills pile up, while they pretend to be something they’re not.

But nobody’s life is perfect.  Whatever you’re seeing on social media is a carefully sculpted picture of someone’s dream life, just the way they want the world to see them. Looking at your friend’s Facebook entries does not tell even a tiny percentage of what’s really going on in their lives.

A couple of years ago, a young lady in Europe took a trip around the world and documented her adventures every step of the journey.  She posted amazing pictures standing next to the Egyptian pyramids. She smiled for the camera outside the Taj Mahal.  Her friends celebrated with her as she reached the base camp at Mt. Everest.  And she posted that she would never forget the feeling of the fresh air at Machu Picchu.  It was an amazing year of self-discovery, as she described how her life had changed with each new place and experience.

Well, it would have been.  Had it actually happened. The young woman had every single person in her life convinced that she was off gallivanting across the globe, including her parents and closest friends.  In fact, the entire time, she had been holed up in her flat with nothing but Facebook and Photoshop.  She had managed to create every experience just by cutting and pasting herself into various places and situations.

What you see on social media might be true. And it might not be.  There’s no way of knowing.  When you are aroused to jealousy because of the picture before you, remember that nobody has it all.  Everyone has their struggles and challenges.

King David seemed to have it all. And yet, the finest raiment in the world could not keep him warm.  Indeed, despite the assumptions of everyone outside the palace, King David was not intimate with the young lady, Avishag, who had joined King David in his chambers.  Because things are not always as they appear.  Likewise, Adoniyah believed that if he could create the impression of being the king, that would make him the king.  In the end, his charade was revealed to all, his followers left his side, and he fled to the Altar to seek refuge from the wrath of Shlomo.

The best way to suppress feelings of envy is to remember that the picture you see is, at best, half the picture.  You don’t know what’s really going on in the other person’s life.  Even if the “picture” you see is not photo-shopped, it tells only a small part of the story of their life.

Most of the blessings in your life cannot be captured in a selfie.  They’re intangibles, such as the warm family relationships you have.  Or the job that you wake up to each morning and enjoy going to.  Or good health.  You can’t put a price on those blessings.  And you wouldn’t exchange them for any Facebook post.

By now, most of us are no longer fooled by what we see and hear on the internet.  Anyone can invent their own persona or create a newsflash.  May you be true and honest with yourself and your loved ones and never suffer pain on account of jealousy caused by other people’s imaginary lives.

About the Author
Rabbi of Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue, London, UK.
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