By Yochanan Gordon
I agree that this is an odd title for an article on Tisha B’Av, but allow me to explain. It’s very easy to focus on mourning, sadness, and destruction when reflecting on the significance of Tisha B’Av in our lives, nearly 2,000 years in exile. But we’ve done that year in and year out, and we are still singing the same sad tunes and very little has changed. Therefore, I’ve decided this year to focus on redemption. Tisha B’Av has as much to do with redemption as it does with mourning, because in addition to being the day on which the two Temples were destroyed, it is also the birthday of Mashiach.
The question then is: what do the social media kings and queens have to do with redemption? I know many of you are thinking that you could draw a more direct line between the destruction of the temples and a lot of what goes on behind Instagram cameras and the wasted time of people consuming what seems to be useless information that is purveyed through many of these channels. But after thinking about this long and hard it occurred to me that there is a significant amount of power in numbers that these marketing phenoms possess, and that itself is potentially transformative.
In a famous letter of the Ba’al Shem Tov to his brother-in-law, Reb Gershon of Kitov, the Besht, as he was affectionately known, retold a certain mystical out-of-body experience he underwent during Rosh Hashanah in the year 1746. He writes that he had entered the vestibule in which Mashiach sat in waiting and inquired precisely when he would arrive. Mashiach famously answered, “When the wellsprings of your teachings are disseminated outward and when the people are able to effect G-d’s unity in the multiplicity of the world similar to the way you can, then I will arrive.”
Since that time, Chassidus has become a formidable movement, lighting souls on fire the world over. Chabad has sent over 5,000 couples to far-flung places across the globe and still I’m sitting here in my Cedarhurst home, as I type these words instead of very different sentiments from a liberated Eretz Yisrael under the reign of King Mashiach, and the question begs itself. Why? How?
When I was growing up there was a famous Country Yossi song that declared, “It’s gonna be the little kinderlach who make Mashiach come.” There is something significant and powerful about the innocent and untainted voice of a child reciting a pasuk, saying a tefillah, or learning an amud of Gemara. However, as the Ba’al Shem Tov asserted in the letter to his brother-in-law, the coming of Mashiach needs to be preceded by a paradigm shift that unleashes with it a transformative energy that the world hasn’t heretofore experienced.
How can we achieve that? To me it’s clear that the answer lies in the palms of every social media master, and you know who you are. A cursory look at some of the leading Instagram influencers shows a following of tens and at times even hundreds of thousands of followers. Without getting bogged down with regard to the nature of much of the conversations taking place across these platforms, we need to realign our thought process and realize the opportunity that presents itself for global change.
In case there are those reading this and saying to themselves that this is Yochanan Gordon’s stretch or bad attempt at trying to follow in the path of the Berditchiver, it’s important to put the idea of galus into perspective.
We are in exile, as I wrote earlier, almost 2,000 years. Do we know what galus is? Can we characterize it? The Arizal in his ma’amarim on Pesach teaches us that in Egypt the dibbur was in galus. Dibbur means speech, but it represents the sefirah of Malchus or the Shechinah, which, of course, is manifest collectively by all of Klal Yisrael.
When we say the Shechinah is in exile, what we are essentially saying is that we are not doing enough to promote G-d in the world. That’s why it is much more important to do a mitzvah with a disenfranchised Jew than to see to it that he becomes a socially conforming frum Jew. The power that is unleashed by the performance of one mitzvah is infinite and all the more so when that mitzvah is performed by someone for no other reason than the fact that he is a Yid who knows that G-d takes pleasure in the performance of that act.
A symptom perhaps, on some level, of the dibbur in galus is when people who are famous for achievements in sports or entertainment are given a platform to discuss their opinions on issues of global import such as gun control, or other important conversations well beyond their area of expertise.
The dibbur in galus is when G-d tells Moshe to communicate a message to Pharaoh and he answers that he is not a man of words. Moshe was a reflection of G-d, a merkavah, as the sifrei Chassidus and Kabbalah term it. If Moshe can’t speak, it means there is an issue with G-d’s speech on some level.
Ironically, from the beginning of Sefer Devarim, which we begin this Shabbos and onward for the next three months or so, Moshe starts talking, as the book commences, “These are the words that Moshe spoke…” and it seems like his speech impediment was cured, because he doesn’t stop talking.
The advent of the Internet and then later social media, such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, has catapulted otherwise regular people into overnight sensations. I am reminded of the conversation between Yehoshua and Moshe Rabbeinu after the former overheard Eldad and Meidad prophesying about the death of his beloved rebbe, Moshe. When Yehoshua, in protest of what he perceived as treasonous, said, “My master Moshe, finish them off!” Moshe responded, “Are you jealous on my behalf? What would I give to see the entire nation of G-d as prophets?”
Technology has enabled people to speak in front of a camera from the comfort of their own home or office and for their message to be experienced throughout the world. Otherwise regular men and women from our communities, who prior to Instagram were honorable career men and women or homemakers, have been cast into the public light with their messages on a plethora of topics to be heard and acted upon. Can we imagine, for a moment, the type of change that we can effect if we could elevate the conversation to something bigger than self-promotion? We are the voice of G-d and we need to make sure His message is heard the world over, to put an end to this exile.
I want to conclude with the following story that occurred with my oldest son, Nison, this summer in Camp Munk, where he has spent the last few summers. One of the things Camp Munk is well known for is their Cantata, which is a drama and a cappella experience with the purpose of setting the tone for the Three Weeks that lead up to Tisha B’Av.
My son, Nison, loves to sing, much as I do. As a two-year-old he had the ability to project his voice in front of large crowds. That led me to think that he was going to be a vocal prodigy, which was always a dream of mine. However, as he continued to grow up he could carry a tune perfectly but it always seemed to me that the resonance in his singing was not there. He tried out for choirs in the summers and although he was accepted the second time around, he was denied the first time around, and as a parent I truly felt his sense of discouragement.
This summer he returned to camp and we hadn’t spoken about the Cantata or the choir but I knew that he would try out as he had during the previous two summers. One night, very late, we got a call from an unfamiliar number and I decided to answer to see who could be calling at that late hour. It was our son Nison, who couldn’t seem to catch his breath from excitement, notifying us that he was given a solo in the Cantata that was scheduled for the very next night.
My brother, Nachi, is well-connected in the camp having spent fourteen summers there, had arranged for someone to video his solo so we could see it. The thought of him getting up in front of the whole camp and belting out a solo was a bit nerve-wracking for us but we were eager to hear it. That evening at about 9 p.m. we received the text message, “Nison killed it!” (Which is a millennial term for acing the part.) To be quite honest, I’ve listened and listened to that 33-second solo countless times and I’m amazed at the confidence and resonance with which he delivered his solo.
The juxtaposition of this story with the Nine Days got me thinking that my son had found his voice, and I pray that G-d finds His and delivers us from this overripe exile. And if I can make a spoof of a spoof I’d like to suggest that it will be the social media kings and queens who will make Mashiach come!