Facebook, Transparency and the Next World

Like everybody and his old chum from 10th grade biology, I’m on Facebook. Thanks to Facebook, reconnecting with people from the past has never been easier. Type in the name of someone you knew at any phase of your life – elementary school, summer camp, your first job out of college – and quite likely, you’ll find a picture of that very person, all grown up with a whole life story to tell you. So when I saw the prompt about reconnecting with old friends, I decided not to address the issue per se, but to present what I call “my Facebook moshol.”

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that joining Facebook has made me reflect on my past and my present, who I used to be and who I’ve become. Sometimes recalling the past is just pure fun and nostalgia. Sometimes, the memories are more mixed. When I try and imagine myself from the point of view of people I haven’t seen in years and who might remember me in less than flattering ways, Facebook is not so pleasant. And therefore, I want to put forth the theory – and I mean no sacrilege – that Facebook is a foretaste of the Next World.

Most of what I know about the Next World, I learned from Rabbi B. Shafier of The Shmuz, specifically his three-part lecture “Life 101,” which is the basis for his new book, The Shmuz on Life. The only things we take to the Next World are our neshomas and our deeds. Our deeds become, as it were, the clothing for our neshomas. Our mitzvos will shine on us like jewelry, but our aveiros will look like rags. And worse, they’ll have holes in them that will expose what we’d prefer to keep covered. For those, we’ll suffer eternal shame. In the Next World, we’ll experience both the honor of Heaven and the shame of Hell at the very same time.

So what does that have to do with Facebook? The neshoma of everyone you’ve ever known will be there, as visible as a profile picture – except there’s no privacy option, no choice not to upload. We’ll all be there, and we’ll all see each other. It’s the ultimate transparency.

But even transparency has mitigating factors. In the words of computer culture expert David Weinberger, “An age of transparency must be an age of forgiveness.” If I can see your sins and you can see mine, we can sympathize with each other for being such imperfect human beings. And since I want my sins erased, how can I begrudge you the same?

But the most important mitigation comes from seeing our lives in broader context. In this world, we get a little of that with the passage of time, but in the Next World, we’ll be able to see much, much more. Yes, the good, the bad, and the ugly will be part of the picture, but so will Hashem’s intentions for us, our spiritual purpose, why x circumstance was not negative, but necessary. I suppose in this sense, my Facebook moshol falls short, but even still, I heard in the name of the Chofetz Chaim that every technological innovation hints to some parallel spiritual experience, and this age of reconnection and transparency might be a taste of those aspects of the World to Come.

Originally Published Feb 7, 2011

9 comments on “Facebook, Transparency and the Next World

  1. beautiful moshol (a sincere approbation from someone who admittedly has never been there and never intends to go there) – and you have followed in the illustrious footsteps of the chofetz chayim z”l who also took lesson from advances made in his days. aside from your specific insight into this subject of gehinom, you’ve really spurred me on to think more about other things we should be learning from the stuff around us. thanks!

  2. Es Chatai Ani Mazkir HaYom. Yes, I contribute to a few blogs other than this esteemed blog. I don’t contribute to Facebook, have my own page, etc. However, I am skeptical as to whether blogs, Facebook or Tweeter really are just glorified electtonic resources or aide in forging relationshops

  3. facebook, in my opinion,is definitely an insight into what you’re discussing. it’s just my opinion though.

    there are a few works or resources, electronic or otherwise, which actually can remind us the real uniqueness of each individual. facebook is an extremely imperfect method to do this, but it is still a method.

    it is much the same as how videotape also serves as a method to understand this. in olden times, people might not have been able to consider the real ability or implications of viewing one’s own actions after they happen. now we have a form of technology which gives us some greater awareness of this concept, though in a very imperfect, mundane and commonplace way.

  4. What I am about to say will upset some people, but I will say it anyway because Jews need to hear it and because I can prove it is true.

    Contrary to what many Jews believe, Gehinom [Hell] *** IS *** an authentic Jewish belief.

    I performed a computer software search which revealed that the word Gehinom is mentioned five (5) times in the Mishnah and 140+ times in the Babylonian Talmud.

    Another widespread mistaken belief is that Gehinom must always be limited to 12 months. On the contrary, there are solid sources in Torah that support ideas like eternal punishment and eternal shame. For example:

    [1] Tanach, Daniel, chapter 12, verse 2:

    Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth will wake up; some for eternal life and some for eternal disgrace and shame.

    Rashi explains that this means the dead will live again.

    Metsudath David explains that many of those who sleep will wake up, but not all of them, because the Resurrection of the Dead is only for the righteous.
    He also explains that ETERNAL LIFE means a pleasant life for the righteous.
    He also explains that the wicked will suffer shame and humiliation every day forever.

    [2] Zohar, Parshat Noach, page 66A:

    But those who cling to their sins and refuse to repent of them will in the end descend to Gehinom and never come up again.

    [3] Babylonian Talmud, tractate Rosh HaShanah, page 17A, 8 to 19 lines from top:

    But heretics and informers and Jews who deny the Torah or the resurrection of the dead and those who departed from the ways of the congregation and those who scared people without good cause, and those who caused many people to sin like Jeraboam son of Nebat and his associates, they descend to Gehinom and are punished there forever…

    [4] Tosefta on tractate Sanhedrin, Chapter 13, Paragraph 2 of 2:

    Informers, heretics, apostates, people who depart from the ways of the congregation, people who deny the Torah or the resurrections of the dead, promoters of sin, tyrants and those who lay their hands on the Temple; the doors of Gehinom [Hell] close forever behind them, and they are punished forever [literally, for all generations].

    [5] Midrash Rabah, Seder Bereshit, Parshah 9, (Paragraph 3 in my edition):

    If you seek Him, He will find you. If you abandon Him, He will abandon you forever.

    [6] Bartenura comment on Mishnah, tractate Avot, Chapter 4, Paragraph 22:

    The dead are destined to be revived, and stand for the Day of Judgment, some for the life of the World to Come and some for eternal disgrace.

    [7] Orchot Tzaddikim, Chapter HaTeshuvah (the 26th Gate):

    All of those who have no share in the World-to-Come and are punished forever in Gehinom, are only those who died in their wickedness. But if they repented, there is nothing that stands in the way of repentance.

    [8] Shevet Mussar, Chapter 38, paragraph 23:

    He who does not repent even when death is near and he dies without repenting, is a complete heretic who denies the Day of Judgment and is punished in Gehinom forever.

    [9] Sefer Chafetz Chaim, Volume 1, Chapter (Clal) 8, Paragraph 12:

    Whoever slanders a Jew to non-Jews, certainly his sin is too great to forgive, because through this the speaker joins the category of INFORMERS, and his punishment is the same as heretics who deny the Jewish faith, and his time in Gehinom [Hell] will be forever, as we learned in tractate Rosh HaShanah page 17A, therefore every Jew must avoid this exceedingly.

  5. Our knowledge of the details of the Next World is limited, so our ability to make analogies from our life on earth are also limited. Tzaddikim who have spoken on the Next World are obviously much closer to understanding it. Possibly, the Next World is so different from ours as to make any fully literal description in words impossible.

  6. I like the post as well.

    Regarding the point made by S, I think one would have to back up from which Kabbalistic or Chazal- based source one is quoting from when discussing Moshiach, Olam Haba, etc.(“eschatological matters” to use the technical term); even without specific sources,though, the post is in the general approach of similar thoughts of the Chafetz Chaim.

    From a broader perspective, there is a Chazal regarding Matan Torah which might be relevant. Chazal explain that although Moshe was to convey the Mitzvos to the women softly, when he spoke to the men, he was to speak harshly.

    By extension, perhaps, there are times one emphasizes the positive, or one can emphasize the negative. The art of self-growth, as well as that of Rabbomim giving dersahos to their congregations to motivate them, is to know when to make use of what, and in what doses, like a physician dispensing medicine. Speaking publicly is a challenge in of itself, as one has both “men” and “women” in the audience(in the sense used above).

  7. I’ve emphasized the shame, but the reward part holds equally true. Here’s another of Rabbi Shafier’s analogies:

    Imagine you’re an investor. You convince a group of retirees to invest their life savings with you. One year later, you go back to meet with them again to let them know whether you made money for them or lost. The anxiety level will be pretty high in the room; after all, these people are depending on you. Now let’s say your news is good. You invested wisely for them. What cheers and pats on the back, what a warm welcome you’ll receive!

    That’s us in the Next World for all the mitzvos we’ve done.

  8. > For those, we’ll suffer eternal shame. In the Next World, we’ll experience both the honor of Heaven and the shame of Hell at the very same time.

    This is not, to say the least, mainstream afterlife theology. Eternal shame?

    If this schema speaks to you, fine, but at least be aware that it’s one of many possible scenarios which, in the final analysis, those who live are not privy to.

    (Very good post, just wanted to point that out.)

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