Why do we do this? The midrash says…
I have often heard these lines and even said them myself. We use the body of literature known as the midrash to interpret the Torah, the law, and our rituals so that we may understand them better. For example, when I was little I heard the story of Abraham and the idols. It is a midrash to explain how Abraham became who he was. His father owns an idol shop and one day Abraham destroys all of the idols. When his father comes back and asks what happened, Abraham explains that he didn’t do anything…the idols destroyed one another. It wasn’t until I was older and actually read the Bible that I learned that this story did not occur in the Torah, but instead was from the midrash.
Although the midrash usually refers to rabbinic texts that are hundreds of years old, I think that we are still creating midrash. And as educators, we often fling the word midrash around to share stories that we might have learned somewhere, although we may not remember where. And we even encourage our students to create midrashim.
A particular midrash came to mind recently as I was checking my online social networks. I noticed that several of my contacts posted the same thing to twitter, LinkedIn, and facebook. I’ve been guilty of posting my blogposts to all three networks, but for other posts, I usually choose what posts belongs where. I think of twitter as broadcasting to the entire world, LinkedIn as sharing with just my professional colleagues (and others in the professional world even if we do not know each other), and facebook as the place to share things that I would only want to go to people I actually know. The really personal stuff never goes on any site. There is some bleeding of professional contacts into facebook, but the content is still appropriate to the place. (I have other social network accounts, but I rarely use them.)
As I read some random tweet which was also inappropriately posted to LinkedIn, I thought of the perfect midrashic analogy. Although I haven’t been able to track down a source (it was probably the imagination of some teacher of mine along the way) I remember the midrash I learned about Shabbat candle lighting. Prior to lighting candles on Friday evenings, we wave our hands toward our own faces three times before we cover our eyes, to bring in the warmth of the candles. The midrash I learned, and taught several times, is that the first big wave is to gather in the whole world to the warmth of the candles. The second wave is to bring in our larger community — our city, synagogue, friends. The last wave is to bring in our family, our loved ones. While each wave looks the same, they are most definitely different.
Perhaps when we post online, we should think about the candle waves in reverse. What are we putting out and to whom? What goes on tumblr, Google+, and the myriad of other websites out there where we can share our thoughts and materials? We might want to think about whether we want the entire world to see this, the greater community, or our immediate community. Let the midrash be our guide!
PS: When I write a blog post, I actually do want to broadcast it to my followers on twitter, my professional contacts on LinkedIn, and my friends on facebook.