Self View on Zoom

Friday, 15 May, 2020 - 3:58 am

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Lag Ba’omer has come and gone.



Jewish Holidays come but they never go.

Their message shapes us and presents us with a different perspective on everything we do.

Lag Baomer is about the students of Rabbi Akiva stopping to die by plague.

The Talmud gives the reason for the plague as ‘they did not practice respect for each other’.

Rabbi Akiva himself had taught them that ‘Love your fellow as yourself, is the great rule of the Torah’. Sadly, they fell short of living up to what was expected of them as students of this great sage. This earned them a harsh consequence which we mourn till this very day. See the Rebbe’s teaching about this. And A short video about this

Clearly, Lag Baomer is thus a day that reminds us and empowers us to be more mindful of treating others with respect. 

Lag Baomer is also the celebration of the passing of the great sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai the author of the Zohar. This bring great joy with it. Click here for a teaching from the Zohar from our Parsha. It will be helpful in looking at your fellow more endearingly. 

In some respects having a pandemic in the technology age of 2020 enables us to interact with others far more than ever before.

There are many similarities between our current plague and the ‘Spanish Flu’ plague.

In 1918 quarantining was the main way to bring down the flu epidemic that raged through the world.

In 2020, quarantine is still the main way to reduce the numbers and spread of infection.

Masks were mandatory or heavily encouraged in 1918. Same in 2020.

In some respects though, there are major differences. 

For one, in 1918 there was no Zoom. In 2020 there is Zoom.

At face value I would say, what a great tool we now have to connect to others.

‘Love your fellow as yourself’ would seem easier now. For starters, you can be in contact with so many others, even while staying safely quarantined.

Family gatherings via Zoom are very popular. Class reunions are on the rise. My sisters did a great cooking session called ‘Sisters Cook Shabbat’, four sisters over three time zones. (Some great recipes there)

On the surface it seems that we are really more into interacting with others than ever before.

Quarantining is a lot easier now that it would have been before the internet age.

Boy am I happy I am not in 1918….

But, this week as I was wearing my mask, (I try to be religious about fulfilling G-d’s commandments and during this period we need to be religious about protecting lives by not spreading germs G-d forbid) and feeling ever breath of my own carbon monoxide that I was inhaling, I realized that I was thinking about myself a lot. Every breath in and every breath out is an opportunity to thank G-d, no doubt. But it is also a very strong feeling of ‘self’.

That got me thinking.

About how much I have been looking at myself lately. In Zoom. In Facebook. In pre-recording my classes. 

Are we really thinking more about others now than we did in 1918? 

Or do we perhaps need to take precautions to ensure that our new tools are tweaked in a way that they lead us to be loving to others, not just feeling, seeing and thinking about ourselves.

Let me give you some examples.

I have found that it is very common practice for people that post on Facebook to check the amount of ‘likes’ in response to their ‘Facebook Live’ posts.

Which leads to the question. Do you post to benefit others? Or are you posting to create popularity for yourself?

It reminded me of a dating joke.

The guy doesn’t stop speaking about himself. Finally, he takes a break. He asks her, ‘enough about me, now let me hear about you. what do you think about me’?

I discovered that when ‘Zooming’ with people I am attracted to looking at my own face in the screen.

By speaking to people and doing rudimentary ‘Google searches’ I now know that this phenomenon is quite standard and normal. Yes, most humans seem to be attracted to look at themselves on the Zoom screen. And there are many articles that discuss this.

During a Torah class I mentioned that I would really like not to have my own picture on my screen. A community member who is almost eighty, (I mention his age to dispel the notion that the elderly are somehow technology impaired 😊) told me how to fix the Zoom issue. He directed me to the top right corner where there is an option to ‘hide self-view’. So that you can be seen but you don’t see yourself. The reason he found this option is cute. At the beginning of the lesson we couldn’t hear him. Something had gone awry with his microphone. In fiddling around to find the issue, he found the above option of ‘hide self-view as well’. This gave us a vivid reminder that everything is by Divine Providence.

I tried it. 

And I love it.

You can see others without being distracted by yourself.

‘Love your fellow as yourself’.

There is a prerequisite to that. 

You have to first be able to SEE your friend. If you are too caught up and self-consumed, you will not even see anyone else.

This reminds me of a wonderful story I heard as a child.

About a generous man who became wealthy. Sadly, with this wealth came a downgrade in his generosity. One of the favorite upgrades to the newly wealthy persons home, was the ornate mirror that was positioned in his dining room. His Rebbe came to visit and soon noticed this sad change in his disciple.

Then the Rebbe said to Abraham, "It is strange, is it not? A mirror and a window are both made of glass and yet they are very different."

"What do you mean?" asked Abraham.

"Well," said the Rebbe, "when you looked in the mirror you could only see yourself and the things that belong to you. You could see much more when you looked out the window. Then you could see all your neighbors and friends from the whole town."

"That is true," said Abraham. "A mirror and a window are both made from glass. The window is transparent. Light can pass right through it. It is clear and you can see everything through it. The mirror, on the other hand, is covered with silver on one side. The rays of light cannot pass through, and therefore a mirror can only reflect what is in front of it."

"I see," said the Rebbe and nodded his head. "I see. The piece of glass that is plain is clear through and through, allowing you to see others and their lives. But when it is covered with silver, then you can see only yourself. Hm, very interesting. It is really quite fantastic, isn't it? Now do you think it will work the other way too? Could you take a mirror and scrape off the silver so that you would be able to see everyone else instead of yourself?"

Abraham's eyes filled with tears. He felt so ashamed. Finally, he was beginning to understand everything that had happened to him since he became rich.

This is the punch line, but I suggest that you actually read the story in its entirety. Its great to share with kids as well.

Wealth is a fantastic resource to have. You can be of help to so many people. 

This weeks (Double) Parsha Behar-Bechukotai contains fantastic blessings. The verse says:

God continued to instruct Moses what to convey in His name to the people: “If you make sure to advance in the knowledge of My rules by studying the Torah assiduously, i.e., beyond the minimal requirement, and you make sure to study the Torah with the intent to safeguard your proper performance of My commandments, and then indeed perform them properly,

I will reciprocate by granting you material beneficence that exceeds the limitations of nature: I will give you the rains in a manner most favorable to your benefit and convenience: They will fall in their time—i.e., the time I have designated for them exclusively—nighttime, when people are not outdoors working the land. This way, you will be able to work the land by day unhindered by rain. Moreover, I will further limit the rainfall to the time most convenient for you—the Sabbath night, when no one is usually about. Miraculously, the land will yield its full produce from the rain that falls during this short weekly period. Also miraculously, the naturallybarren tree of the field will give forth its fruit.

There will be so much grain that threshing will occupy you until the grape harvest, and harvesting the grapes will occupy you until the time for sowing the fields again for grain. But you will not need this overabundance for yourselves, since your food will be so miraculously satiating that you will be able to eat just a small amount of your food to satiate yourselves. You will live in security in your land, i.e., without fear of drought. 

G-d considers wealth to be a great blessing that He bestows upon people. For when things are good for us materially we can do so much more good. Simply, when you are rich you can give more Tzedaka, when you are healthy you can help others more and study more Torah. With resources, we can live our meaningful lives to an even fuller extent. 

But we need to be cautious not to fall into the pitfalls of the challenges that wealth brings with it.

Technology is an immense gift of wealth that G-d has granted our generation. 

Let us use it for its intended purpose. 

To be a vessel to fulfil Hashem’s plans for this world.

Let us make sure that Lag Baomer has influenced us to SEE others and to LOVE others just as much as we SEE, feel and LOVE ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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