This past Sunday, I watched a story about smart watches, where they interviewed a gentleman about his wristband activity monitor. He commented that he loved the fitness device because he could monitor several different aspects of his life to “become a better person.”
Monitoring your heart rate, the number of steps you take, and your blood pressure can possibly make you a healthier person, but I’m not sure that it can make you a “better” person. What struck me was how this device and so many others ultimately turn our focus to the self. In the world of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, we can communicate our every move, thought and activity to the digital universe. We can take and post a “selfie” for all the world to see.
And then there are the self-help books, the weekend seminars to become a better “you,” the mindfulness movement, the search for spirituality, all focused on the individual.
We have become a society fixated on the self, and our social media and personal devices only accentuate this fixation. I am all for becoming a better person, but to what end? If the aim is purely enhancement of self, then I believe we are losing the meaning of what it means to be human and Jewish.
When it’s “all about me,” the community is diminished and the richness of being a human and part of a dynamic Jewish community is diminished as well.
The strength and health of our community should be a driving force in how we act; that is the human and, more importantly, Jewish way! You see that at Hillel when parents exercise caution, shut off their phones and drive slowly and courteously in the parking lot. You see it at Hillel when parents give of their time to PTO, school events or classroom activities to enhance the entire learning and social experience at Hillel. You most often see it when parents show compassion, inclusiveness and sensitivity by scheduling parties on Sundays or after Shabbat – even when they do not observe. Or the families who may not keep kosher but make sure their parties are dairy or kosher so all children can participate. You see it from the parents who understand that paying tuition does not fulfill the obligation of tzedakah; they contribute to the annual fund, even when they themselves receive tuition assistance, to ensure that a Hillel education is available to the nearly 58% of our students who need tuition assistance.
We all need to give up something of ourselves for others. Ironically, when you think and act beyond yourself, you end up feeling more fulfilled and complete.
A community relies on everyone to give up a little bit of the self for the other. Judaism is based on that fundamental principle. Hillel taught it when he said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?
It’s not about being completely selfless; it is about balance. In our society, we are losing the balance. The more we move away from our Jewish values, the thinner the fabric of our community becomes.
Remember what Pesach is about – It’s about celebrating the freedom that led to us becoming a nation – a people with shared values and responsibilities. At our Seder tables let’s remember to focus on the meaning of the holiday. We celebrate God’s role in the destiny of the Jewish people, his promise to make us a nation with a land, and in return we would give of ourselves to God, to the Jewish people and to our communities to make the world a sacred and meaningful place to live and thrive. That requires us to extend beyond ourselves!