The Generation of Consuming Data
MyLife Essay Contest 2017
Never in the history of mankind have humans been so connected to one another. With the increase in social media (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter etc.) the global village is shrinking to a global swamp. We are constantly up to date with the lives of every man or woman we choose to ‘follow’. Yet, never in the history of mankind have we been so disconnected from one another. Social ties are unraveling, divorce rates are skyrocketing and loneliness has reached epidemic proportions.
Our need for connectedness is as old as we are. From day one, we were created to be social animals; to connect to one another. Adam and Eve, the first humans, were created attached back to back, facing opposite directions. However not being able to see one another did not work for cultivating the kind of relationship God had intended for them and so He separated them, so that they might face each other, speak, converse and connect in a much deeper and meaningful way.
The same remains true to this very day. Although we may be virtually connected in so many ways to one another, these ties fail to adequately substitute for face-to-face communication. Without true presence or even eye contact, our thirst for connectedness remains unquenched. We experience emptiness and loneliness, which we attempt to fill with even more social media, and more fast generated data. However, this satisfies us for perhaps just the amount of time it takes for a notification to light up our screen or a newsflash to steal our attention.
In short, our (almost) addiction to social media and data has consumed and overridden our capacity to form real and meaningful connections that make us feel happy and good about ourselves.
he teachings of Chassidut offer us meaningful and practical solutions to achieve satisfying relationships. The Chaba”d understanding of the dynamics of the human personality and of such concepts such as Nefesh, Am Israel and Fabrengin can enlighten our view of the world around us, and more importantly, of how we relate to and connect with the people with whom we share this life. Hopefully, these following teachings will leave us with not only a practical take away but a sense of hope as well.
Who Are We?
Each and every one of us is blessed to have a dual Nefesh, soul; an animalistic soul and a higher, Godly soul. Each Nefesh is responsible for a different facet of our life. The Nefesh Behemit, the animalistic soul, is our natural sense of self, our ego. It energizes our life force, drives our instincts and is also the source of lust and temptation.
The Nefesh Elokit, the Godly soul, is “literally a part of the One above”.4 It is the component of our personality that drives our spirit, seeks to rise above the mundane and profane and is the source of all good and kind forces within us. Our avodah, our imperative, is to place the steering wheel of our life in the hands of our Godly soul and leave the animalistic side only to fuel such necessary things as desire for food, rest and procreation.
Learning to Love Yourself
Judaism has always emphasized the importance of treating others with respect and kindness.
The flagship statement of Rabbi Akivah articulates exactly that:
“ואהבת לרעך כמוך- זה כלל גדול בתורה”
“You shall love your fellow as yourself- this is a fundamental principle of the Torah”
Indeed, we find that when a potential convert asked Hillel the Elder to reduce the entire Torah to one fundamental principle, he replies articulating this very principle!
Yet, this inspiring statement leaves much room for clarification. As we know, the Torah is comprised of two sets of mitzvoth: a. those between man and God (the first five commandments) and b. those between man and his fellow man (the last five commandments). How then can a mitzvah pertaining only to one set of mitzvoth, namely, those between man and his fellow man, be considered the singular fundamental principle of Torah?
Drawing on the teachings from Tanya about the nature of our soul presented above, the Rebbe explained7: Each human being stands on his or her own, separate (and different) to the person to whom s/he stands next to. In terms of the physical world, no two people share the same body or even the exact same genetics.
However, in the spiritual world there exist no such divisions between people. Each and every Jew has a holy Godly soul that is “literally a part of the One above”8 and as such, all Jewish souls are unified at their source. It is only due to the Hishtalshelut HaNeshamot, the necessary decent of the souls into the physical world, that there is (physical) separation between people. At the core, all Jews are intrinsically unified. The divisions between people that we experience in our physical world are apparent but not real; beheld by us through our physical eyes viewing our worldly reality.
In truth, however, there is no separation, we are one with ourselves and with God; there exist no divisions.
This is the key to fulfilling the precept to “love your fellow man as yourself”- actually as yourself (mamash). If we can view our fellow Jews in this manner, then it should be simple to fulfill this fundamental Torah value, because we are already, actually, connected by our souls. To love your fellow is, spiritually speaking, to love a part of yourself.
Who’s in Charge?
However, this beautiful insight can elude most of us, if we fail to explain how we accomplish this. How do we view our fellow spiritually? How do we look beyond the separating bodies to our united souls?
The Rebbe explains that the key is found in how a person defines him\her self. We are made up of body and soul and are given the choice of which element will determine our behavior. Will our (time bound) body, driven by physical desires, temporal cravings and egocentric impulses control the course of our life? Or, will our (eternal) soul, driven by spiritual yearning, a continuous sense of purpose and an altruistic sensitivity be the commander in chief?
When the body, or as termed above the animalistic soul, the ego, is in control, the strong sense of me, I and myself allow for nothing but separation.
When the soul, the nefesh elokit, is in control, then there is room for unity. The soul operates on spiritual plains where all souls are unified at their source- Hashem Elokinu, Hashem Echad.
Creating the Connection
Each man or woman is capable of choosing which element, body or soul, will define them.11 When we engage in matters of the spirit, we automatically define ourselves in spiritual terms. When we engage in the mundane and profane we define ourselves in lower, worldly terms. This influences our ability to connect with people.
I would like to suggest that in order to have a spiritual connection with another person, we need to have a spiritual conversation.
When we engage in Torah and Godliness together, we are acting in and with an awareness of the spiritual nature of the world and in this world our Nefesh Elokit, our Godly soul, is active and thus defining us. As explained, on this plain no separation exists between us. We connect as only two brothers can. Similarly, in moments of kindness, when we “leave ourselves” to reach out to our fellow, it is the Nefesh Elokit that is the source of our actions and thus the platform for our connection.
Now we can go back to understand the statement of Rabbi Akiva. How is “love your fellow as yourself”, which seemingly relates to just one type of mitzvah, a “fundamental principle of Torah”- Implying the entire Torah? It should now be clear. In order to connect on a level of kamocha, “as yourself”, we need to be in touch with our bien adam lamakom, with our spiritual capacity. Only then can we achieve the level of kamocha mamash- unity on the level of the soul.
The Fabrengin, (Yiddish for ‘joyous gathering’) provides the ideal platform for creating meaningful and satisfying connections. At a Fabrengin, chassidim gather around and share words of Torah, tell stories of exemplifying spiritual devotion, kindness and compassion, and sing to Hashem with joy. The entire evening gravitates towards coming together to serve the Creator. The Godly soul is in full gear, which as explained, permits for a deep and meaningful connection between the participants. Chassidim that fabreng together, stick together!
So if I may suggest, go gather your friends and set a weekly/bi-weekly/monthly date on which you will sit together around a table filled with drinks and yummy food (without any Wi-Fi products!) to engage in a spiritual social get-together. Allow every man or woman to share a few words of Torah they feel passionate about or interested in and don’t be afraid to sing aloud together.
I can’t guarantee it, but from experience I can say quite confidently that not only will your connections with these special friends deepen and grow, but you yourself will flourish spiritually.
Suggested Fabrengin DIET:
D – Drinks are a must to begin with
I – Ignite your souls with a bit of learning.
E– Eat and share a few stories.
T– Tune in to your favorite tunes.