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Being nice isn’t just manners, it’s a spiritual imperative



Social media is great.

It allows us to connect. To share. To access the world.

It also allows us to exclude. To hurt. To mimic foreign values.

It’s becoming increasingly evident that the pros of social media are counter balanced, or outweighed, by the cons it presents.

The social lives of teens are unbelievably complex. That was before social media came onto the scene. The constant comparisons, snide remarks on chats, exclusion from groups, and uninterrupted access to other teens’ lives is taking an emotional toll.

What does this have to do with Rosh Hashanah?

It’s the day of judgement, a great day that approaches, and we all sense its magnitude, like an impending job interview or meeting with the principal. A day when we begin the 10-day process of teshuvah – looking inward and changing our relationship with Hashem and spirituality.

It’s the anniversary of the day Adam and Eve were created and, for that reason, we stand in the dock and essentially try to justify our creation by demonstrating that our real and pure intentions are to be better Jews – at least better than we were the year before.

It’s therefore quite strange that in the process of teshuvah, the easiest acts to improve on and get given a clean slate for are those mitzvot between man and G-d. We apologise and commit ourselves wholeheartedly to improving and, hopefully, Hashem forgives us.

Yet, when it comes to the interpersonal infractions, the wrongs we have done to others, we cannot be forgiven by Hashem. Those acts remain on our “record” until we ask the people we have harmed for forgiveness. Hashem cannot overwrite these wrongs. We have to put in the effort, face the music and the heat, and apologise.

This fact isn’t insignificant. We’re held accountable spiritually for our relationships with other people. Judaism demands of us that we behave in a certain way to others. It’s not just good manners, it’s a spiritual requirement.

This is captured in a powerful Mishna in Pirkei Avot (Chapter 3 Mishna 10): “Chanina ben Dosa would also say: ‘One whom his fellow men find him to be pleasant, Hashem also finds pleasant. But one whom people do not find pleasant, Hashem does not find pleasant’.”

Hashem gets pleasure with people only when they are held in good esteem with others. G-d cares how you treat others.

The issue with our interactions on social media is that it’s so easy to do the wrong thing. The platforms enable impulsive responses – just take Donald Trump and Kanye West as clear illustrations.

We don’t think before we post. A harmful “chirp” here, and a nasty emoji there. We also don’t see the issue in posting Instagram pictures to everyone in the grade, and not thinking of those we left out of the picture.

As this beautiful, powerful, and holy day of introspection and teshuvah approaches, let’s think about our lives in a broader way. Let’s think about how critical our relationships with our peers are, and how they are actually something important to Hashem and something intrinsically spiritual.

We can use social media to do good, to be kind and inclusive, or the opposite. Let’s start off the new year mindful of our friends and their feelings. It sure beats needing to ask them for forgiveness.

  • Rabbi Ricky Seeff is the general director of the South African Jewish Board of Education and former principal of King David Primary School Victory Park.

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