Passover in the Age of Instagramby Rabbi Jacob Rupp April 2, 2019
“You are always on your phone!” is the classic refrain of those who
are closest to me.
Is it really an addiction? Probably.
While I am still rubbing sleep from my eyes and inhaling the first aroma of the coffee as the hot water hits the ground beans, I have already started my daily podcast listening ritual. News, emails, Netflix. How else can I stimulate my mind?
The need for constant stimulation and multiple streams of mental stimulation makes the daily grind seem somewhat unable to address our deep needs. There is an endless amount of information out there, and (at least in my mind) if only I was more seasoned and educated, the world would be mine.
Pesach is unique in its simplicity. Of course, we’ve overcomplicated it—with the food, the guests, the wine, all the kids’ projects from school. But its clear—the matza is flour and water. The haggadah summarizes itself and says you just need the Cliff’s Notes: pesach, matza, marror. For all that is going on, if you miss the simplicity, you
missed the point.
I remember my earlier days of newfound religious fervor when I argued passionately that the point of Passover wasn’t recognizing the oppression of other peoples and faiths and that the Jewish redemption was unique. But now maybe there’s something more, or a new lesson for this year. Freedom is simple. You don’t need a declaration of independence. You don’t need a long form business plan. You need to know three things; we were slaves to Pharoah, G-d freed us and now we’re supposed to act according to His wishes.
So how is that freedom? Seemingly, it’s slavery.
Thus begins the epic conversation about humanity and humanity’s destiny. Are we ever truly free? As the shackles of political, economic and other types of slavery have lessened somewhat for us in the modern era, we find that on the other end of freedom, there is anxiety, depression and the gnawing feeling that our lives could be better lived.
In a way, there is peace and clarity in being a ‘slave’ because there are no existential crises. Your life isn’t your own. But when you aren’t compelled, and you are truly forced to ask the question “what do you want from your life?” so often we fill that thunderous silence with fear, addiction and distraction.
See, if we completely remove ourselves from any bounds, any sort of history or destiny or obligation, we find ourselves enslaved—but this time by ourselves and our consciousness. If there is nothing bigger about our lives and nowhere we are going or need to be, we bump into the slavery of a meaningless existence.
So enter Pesach. Life shouldn’t be complicated, or complex or even terribly hard to figure out. Do the best job you can. G-d outlines our roles and responsibilities and we should try to do what we can, and BE HAPPY in the role that we occupy. Be present. Be there. Be grateful. All the new information in the world cannot build a foundation where there isn’t one.
For me, trying to always distract myself, to always add more information is, in a way, slavery. I am working hard to learn to be there in the present, to focus on what I need to do immediately instead of consistently thinking about the future. That’s the inherent danger of social media and all of the digital platforms around us.
If we aren’t careful, we have endless distraction. Always something new to learn or to listen to. Our life becomes an endlessly complicated maze of new things, new obligations, new information…just one more post, one more comment, one more influencer to follow. The flip side is turning it all off. Recognizing that we are intrinsically enough. That G-d put us in our situation today and gave us all the information and tools we need to do what we have to do, right now.
As my favorite line in the Haggadah reads, “Because of this (and you point to the
matzah) did G-d take us out of Egypt.” It’s puzzling; surely we eat matza because He took us out and not vise versa. But it’s not true. G-d orchestrated us and our history in order to allow us to plug in now, to accomplish now, to make our lives meaningful right now – not sometime in the future. When we do the mitzvah of eating matza, we are self actualizing in the present tense. That’s all it takes.
But to create a truly meaningful present, we need to learn about our history. We have to learn about our destiny. And we have to recognize that we’ll always be slaves—we can just choose if we want to be enslaved to our potential and our Creator or enslaved to our iPhone. There’s nothing wrong with technology if there’s nothing wrong with you—but sometimes it behooves us to focus on our inner world before we flood ourselves from the world outside. Happy Passover!