What Does Mark Zuckerberg's Shirt Have to Do With Jewish Teachings?

November 10, 2014Rabbi Evan Moffic

In a recent interview, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was asked why he wears the same shirt everyday. He answered in the same way Steve Jobs answered a similar question: He wants to focus his brainpower for the big questions. Deciding what to wear every day, he said, would be a needless waste of intellectual capital.

Zuckerberg is known to be a minimalist in his lifestyle, and this answer reflects that philosophy. It may also reflect some of the lessons he learned growing up at his synagogue. While Judaism does not embrace simplicity in the same way Zen Buddhism does, several core practices embody it.

1. The first is the Sabbath. For one day a week we set aside all the distractions that complicate everyday life. We don’t drive, shop, work or compete. The Sabbath is, according to the Jewish sages, a taste of heaven.

The Sabbath is also predictable. It does not require elaborate preparation. It comes at the same time every week. We say the same prayers at each service. We study the same book (the Torah) each Sabbath morning. Instead of worrying about all the logistics of life, our energy is devoted to renewing our bodies and souls.

2. The second is prayer. Prayer can scare people. Some think of it as a magical incantation or mindless ritual. The Jewish view of prayer is more nuanced. Prayer is a way of reminding ourselves of what matters. It lets us put our choices into a broader perspective. It is a way of practicing life from what philosopher Baruch Spinoza called “the view from eternity.”

If we pray regularly, we can come to see, as Mark Zuckerberg has, that from the point of view of eternity, decisions about shirt to wear do seem frivolous.

3. The third is faith. Pastor Rick Warren began his best-selling book The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? with the simple sentence “It’s not about you.” It’s a beautiful summary of faith.

Faith simplifies the meaning of life by positing that we live for a purpose larger than ourselves. This faith does not mean life is simple. Often a life of faith is more challenging than one based on the belief that nothing matters. It calls us to live with meaning and purpose, and posits that we answer our deepest desires by doing so.

In a wonderful book, Jesus Is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and the 3 He Answered, Reverend Martin Copenhaver summed up this truth, writing,

Many of us spend our lives like that, with indistinct longings we don’t know how to satisfy. We yearn for something and know not what. We try a bit of this and that, for a time, or perhaps only in our imaginations, but nothing is quite right or enough to satisfy. You can never get enough of that which does not satisfy.

With faith we know we have enough.

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