Neil Gaiman is Taking a Six Month Social Media “Sabbatical.” Should You?

Neil Gaiman, New Reading

By Yonatan Gordon

It’s a question that we find ourselves asking more and more these days. What if we simply flipped the “off switch” on social media? Would disconnecting from Facebook, Twitter, and possibly even the Internet, help us lead better and more productive lives?

There is no question that the Internet Age has brought with it a torrent of bits and numbers flying our way. But it has also enabled us to reach out to people around the world; readers and friends who might have otherwise never known about our wit and witticisms.

Before we progress further, let’s first quote from Neil Gaiman’s recent comments, said while spending a day at the Guardian office. He plans to start a six month (or so) social media “sabbatical” in January, 2014.

“I feel that I’m getting too dependent on phones, on Twitter,” he said. “It’s a symbiotic relationship. That instant ability to find things out, to share. I want to see what happens when I take some time off.”

A Tale of Two Doorposts

As in our previous Neil Gaiman article, we decided to see what would happen if we translated Gaiman’s admission into Jewish time. Although he doesn’t say specifically which day in January he plans to start his “sabbatical,” January 1st seemed like a good place to start. If our approach is on target, we should be able to find a clear take-home lesson from the Torah reading of that day. If we need to search and stretch to find something that makes sense, then it would probably be better not to write this article at all.

What did we find? Well January 1st, 2014 falls out on 29 Tevet 5774, or the fourth reading of the Torah portion of Bo. The section discusses the plague of the firstborn in Egypt, and the command that the Jewish people stay inside while the plague was taking place. While the section continues to discuss the paschal offering that they ate that night, and the holiday of Passover, the concept to take a break from the outside world seems most related to this passage:

“And they shall take [some] of the blood [of the Passover offering] and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel, on the houses in which they will eat it.” (Exodus 11:7)

The question that comes to mind is why the Torah specifically mentions that there are two doorposts. Presumably, it is evident that a doorway has two vertical doorposts?

The Chassidic Doorway

Being as the Torah calls attention to these two doorposts, there must be some lesson we can learn. Although the verse itself speaks about doorposts (מְּזוּזֹת), let’s now expand our discussion to speak about doors and doorways (for you can’t have one without the other).

There are two meanings to the Hebrew letter דלת, which also means “door” in Hebrew. There is the dalet that means lowliness, like a poor man ( דל ). Then there is the dalet of being exalted, as in the verse ארוממך ה’ כי דליתני . Additionally, the Ba’al Shem Tov explains that when one walks into a Torah study hall, one should feel that there are two doorways there: one of love, and one of fear of heaven, or the right and left approaches according to Kabbalah.

Indeed, it is explained in Kabbalah that the lintel actually serves the function of connecting the right and left doorposts; or the experience of love and fear in the soul. Just like it is the lintel that is brushed with the blood of the Passover offering, it is also the lintel that helps rectify and balance between these two opposite approaches of the psyche.

The Lintel Approach to Life

In the Torah’s account, retreating was for the sake of the ultimate advance–to leave the exile of Egypt, and receive the Torah at Mount Sinai. But each of us also has our own doorways to the world outside. Sometimes this means the physical doors of our house that keeps intruders out, or welcomes guests in; and sometimes these doors can take the form of open windows on our computer screen.

What we need then is the lintel, the approach to life that balances our desire to communicate with the world, while allowing for retreats when appropriate. Take for example the accolades from fans that are heaped upon the famous. There is no good response to these praises, other than to offer words of encouragement and well wishes.

Where there is great potential is when a person comes to you in search or guidance or help. While it is worthwhile to try and ascertain that the requests are genuine, like the guest that we invite into our home, opening a dialogue in order to benefit another is a most praiseworthy occupation.

The desire to retreat from the world then is a sign of fear. Maybe these thousands of fans are inflating my ego? Maybe the constant updates and messages are preventing me from living a productive life?

What propels us to venture back into the world then comes from our care and consideration for others. If people rely on us for our uplifting thoughts and musings, then we have an obligation to “stay connected,” even though we would very much like not to be.

This also explains the two meanings of the word “door” itself. Even if the whole world views us as “exalted,” we should view ourselves as “lowly” in our own eyes. In order words, while we should distance ourselves from praise, when we can help another, we shouldn’t hesitate to rise to the occasion.

Ongoing Relationships

Our message for today is that there is no such thing as taking a “sabbatical” or break from a relationship. While it is praiseworthy to separate from either praise or criticism, friends are everlasting. We are not saying that the filtering process is easy, especially for someone with millions of fans. But we learn from the lesson of the doorway in Egypt, that in order to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai, we first need a lintel to balance us. The lesson here is that if you want to write something truly novel, to receive your own Torah as it were, its important to first incorporate a “lintel” approach to life.

Excerpted and freely adapted from Rabbi Ginsburgh’s class in Jerusalem, 28 Sivan 5773

You may also be interested in: “An Open Letter to Paul Miller of TheVerge.com “‘Unplugged Internet” Series

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