One of these things is not like the other…..and no, it’s not Facebook. My friend Miriam Brousseau , Social Media Queen and singer in Stereo Sinai, posted something the other day that got me thinking, as she so often does. She was giving a talk about Social Media and Jewish life, and was trying to think of a way to relate some Jewish text to the topic. This week, the Torah portion is actually a double portion, Tazria/Metzora, and it’s all about skin diseases and states of impurity. Perfect!
So what’s the connection to social media? First of all, let’s just dispel the notion right now that this section has anything to do with black magic and needing to be exorcised, to get “the devil” out of one’s body. A person with the kinds of skin diseases mentioned in the text is not touched by demons, it’s not about being contagious in that sense, or about internalizing or evidencing the presence of evil spirits. That’s just not Jewish thinking.
What’s going on in Tazria/Metzora is a ritual issue, not a health issue. People, like houses (that’s in Metzora…trust me, it’s a little out there, but I digress) can be in a state of tamei (impurity), as compared to a state of tahor (purity). All of us dance between the two , between tamei and tahor, throughout our lives, and when we are in that state of tamei, there are always things that can be done to change our status. (It usually involves some water, doing laundry, and living outside the camp for awhile.) No one lives in one or the other status exclusively, because no one is inherently and continuously “sinful” or “impure” or “bad” , or “perfect” or “good” or “holy”….again, not a Jewish thought. Rather, there are things you do, or things/people with whom you come into contact that will change your status.
It all boils down to discernment. Leviticus, and especially these chapters, is a book about making distinctions between the tahor (pure, as in close to God) and the tamei (impure, as in further away from God.) Leviticus asks us to pay close attention to the details of our lives. We must discern, distinguish, delineate.
Which brings us to Social Media.
Social media in and of itself, like the human body, is not an impure thing. It is not evil. It is not inherently bad. But it can be disorganized and chaotic. God brought order to the universe through Creation, by separating, ordering, and organizing the elements of Creation. Leviticus brings order to our daily lives through discernment between what is tamei and tahor. We are taught to make boundaries, distinguish and choose. My friend Sherrie added some insight: Another aspect of your state of ritual purity involves who you “give yourself” to…who gets access to your body, and when. Some things are meant to be private, yet we know how often people are swept up in the technology, losing sight of those particular boundaries.
Boundaries – a good guide for bringing order to the chaos that is the Internet. Social media can be used for good or for ill, and it takes almost constant discernment to tell which is which.
Facebook can bring you good wishes for your birthday, or tell you about an important article to read, or it can bring lashon harah (slanderous speech), destruction, and pain. Twitter can take up space in the universe with inane comments about waiting for coffee, or with sharing information causes, speakers, editorials, etc. Sure, sometimes it’s just fun to watch toddlers eat spaghetti, or play virtual scrabble. And I’m the last person to dismiss the importance of keeping in touch with friends, sharing pictures of our babies or prom-goers, or giving virtual hugs to those in need of support. But, it wouldn’t hurt to adopt a Leviticus-like filter when it comes to the endless streams of images and data that come at us through social media. If Tazria/Metzora can teach us anything about our social media – what we post, share, divulge… perhaps it is that we need to be aware of what side of the tamei/tahor line we are on.