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If Abraham Was on Social Media: Lessons for the High Holidays

If Abraham Was on Social Media: Lessons for the High Holidays

A line of young people all reading from their cell phones

Busy with rehearsals, meetings, and anticipation of the upcoming High Holidays, I have trouble sleeping these days. At 11:33 p.m. on a recent night, I laid in bed wondering what, exactly, Abraham’s Facebook page would have looked like.

Yes, you read that correctly. Abraham. The Abraham. Abraham, Avinu (Our Father). 

I imagine it as quite complete, featuring a relationship status of “It’s Complicated” and a flattering profile picture of him with Isaac, presumably taken with a selfie stick. Indeed, Abraham on Facebook is confusing and slightly disappointing; in my mind, even he can’t escape the trite pseudo-realities of a social media presence.

My own relationship with social media began almost 11 years ago with a small Facebook following of 20 people whom I actually knew. It quickly grew into what is now more than a thousand “friends,” some of whom I’ve yet to meet in person. Today I’m no different than most people over 35 who actively Facebook, Instagram, Tweet, and blog every inch of our lives so friends and family can follow us and comment. 

But just how accurate are our profiles? 

Is that professional, air-brushed photo of my little family a true depiction of my life?  

Assuming all of us are selective about what we share, are we, perhaps, setting up unrealistic expectations for our many friends and followers who eagerly log in daily to admire our seemingly flawless existence?

Forgetting for a minute what our friends think, how much of this perfection-sharing is leading to anxiety and pressure in our own lives as we constantly try to live up to our online fairy tales?

In Genesis 22, when God speaks to Abraham, calling his name, Abraham responds distinctly.  Though we might expect him to say, “Yes?” or “What can I do for you?” Abraham instead responds with a single Hebrew word: “Hineini."

This word is so immensely powerful that the translation barely does it justice – “Here I am.” Hineini does not simply mean being physically present. It means I am physically, emotionally, and spiritually present – listening and ready to do whatever you need. Hineini implies honesty and nakedness, beauty and imperfection, acceptance and vulnerability.

As Facebookers, we are quickly and voluntarily losing touch with Hineini, even as Abraham may be posting a picture of himself poised to sacrifice his only son. When asked by Facebook, “What’s on your mind, Abraham?” he likely would respond with his ever-present hashtag, #hineini.

Fear not, dear Instagrammers, Facebookers, and tweeters: I am not suggesting we should regularly post unflattering pictures of ourselves or lament our problems publicly. Rather, we should try to control how we interpret what we read and see on social media. Those people with the seemingly perfect lives who appear to have it all? They, too, feed their lives through a social media filter that prevents them – and us – from humanizing one another, leading us to place unattainable standards on ourselves. Like us, each of our social media friends and followers has a story filled with pain and joy, shame and pride. 

My own story goes something like this:

Hineini: sleeplessly fighting off insecurity and stress. 

Hineini: losing the war against working-mom guilt.

Hineini: fearing the inevitable and uncontrollable future.

Hineini: always debating between kale and cake.

As we enter this New Year together and begin a season of self-reflection, may we find time to be as present, humble, and forgiving of ourselves as Abraham was when he honestly and powerfully answered God’s call: “Hineini.”

Cantor Aviva Marer, the cantor at Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation in Indianapolis, IN, and the newest member of its clergy team, grew up in Ottawa, Ontario. Born in Canada into a family of Bene Israel Jews from India, she possesses a strong cultural sense of Indian Judaism. Cantor Marer's grandfather built the first synagogue in New Delhi, which still stands today. She enjoys teaching about her heritage and was featured in an exhibit, Beyond Bollywood, at the Smithsonian in February 2014.

Cantor Aviva Marer
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