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Home » Korach, Life Is Beautiful

Korach: The Selfie

Submitted by on June 30, 2019 – 12:11 amNo Comment | 1,715 views

Selfie pictures are all the rage these days. There are all kinds of tricks to get just the right angle. You can get an arm extender to help you to get the best shot. I saw reports that one of the hottest sale items last year was a pocket-size selfie drone. The phone attaches to the drone and you can fly the drone-carrying-camera to the perfect spot to capture a perfect selfie.

Where does a good selfie end up? In the selfie rubbish bin called Instagram, Facebook, or all other forms of social media. Once posted, the poster sits back to count the likes. The more likes one receives, the more valid and valuable one feels. If the selfie is ignored, the poster feels empty.

So, I ask you. Has the world gone crazy? Are we too selfie obsessed? Is the purpose of a picture to garner adoration from a vast pool of strangers who never met you? Is the purpose of a picture to feed your ego?

When selfies began, they were a cool way of personalizing a beautiful vista. Look, said the selfie, not only at this beautiful site but at me inside it. It was about me becoming part of the greater beauty, about blending into the background. But no more. Selfies are now all about me. Stop and think about the difference between a traditional snapshot and a selfie. In a traditional snapshot, the people or the beautiful vista in the picture, are the focus. In a selfie, they are just the background. I am the focus.

The Ninety Percent
In this week’s Torah portion we read about the Levite who received ten percent of everyone’s produce. Because the Levites worked to represent us at the Temple, we were duty bound to support them with ten percent of our produce.[1] Today, we no longer support the Levite, but our sages ordained that we give ten percent of our income to charity. Makes sense, right?

But I have a question. When you look at your income, what do you see? Do you see the ninety percent that is yours or the ten percent that is the Mitzvah? Which is the focus, and which is the background? Is your eye taking a traditional snapshot or a selfie? What do you see when you invite a poor person to dinner, the entire table that is yours or the one plate that is the Mizvah? Are you a selfie?

It is interesting that G-d, in a manner of speaking, addressed the selfie phenomenon thousands of years ago. You see, in addition to the laws about supporting the Levite with ten percent, there were also laws about supporting the kohenpriest. For example, if you had a herd of sheep, the firstborn sheep was given to the kohen.[2]

There was a difference between the kohen’s gift and the Levite’s gift. When you looked at your herd, there was a clear delineation. The firstborn belonged to the kohen, the rest belonged to you. You had no claim on his sheep, he had no claim on yours. Not so with the Levite. On the one hand, every part of your fruit bushel belonged to you, on the other hand, any part of that bushel could become the Levite’s.

With the kohen, it was eminently possible to pull a selfie. The demarcation between the two portions supported the conclusion that a little belongs to him and the rest is mine. The Levite’s gift, however, forced you to think. Which is mine and which is his? I can’t just say that ninety percent of this bushel is mine because I don’t know which fruit is part of the ninety. Any fruit in this bushel can end up being mine or his.

This means that although it is mine, it is also his. Although it belongs to me, I can’t claim it outright for myself. Because until I separate out the portion that will go to the Levite, any part of that bushel is potentially his. The bushel is ours. Mine and his.

In Life
That is how we ought to look at life. The world is not my background designed to serve me. The world is the Temple in which I serve. It is not about me, it is about a higher calling. Every part of my life is also part of G-d’s life. He gave it to me, and He wants me to use it to serve Him.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks once observed that the Torah is the only religious document that devotes its first two chapters to science. It describes the universe that G-d created in mesmerizing detail and stunning beauty. If the first chapters of our book are devoted to science, you would have thought that Jews would set out to become scientists.

Yet, it didn’t turn out that way. Despite the fact that the world is awash in Jewish scientists, the true passion of Judaism is moral living. Why is that? In the inimitable words of the former Chief Rabbi, “G-d is more concerned with the home that we build for him than with the home that He built for us.”

This, my dear friends, is the secret of the selfie. When we look at the ninety percent that is ours, we are looking at the incredible home that G-d built for us. But that is not the most important slice of the pie. In Judaism, we understand that the priority lies with the home that we build for G-d and that is found in the ten percent that we give to charity. We don’t give ten percent to charity so that we can keep ninety percent for ourselves. We keep ninety percent so that we can give ten percent.

But the ninety percent is part of it too. Because if we didn’t have enough money to eat, drink, dress and build our home, we would be unable to build G-d’s home though his Mitzvot. Nevertheless, living and drinking, dressing and building, is not the objective of life. Life is not a selfie. The objective is the ten percent. When we utilize our resources to build a home for G-d, the ninety percent fulfills its purpose.

As we said earlier about the Levite’s gift. No part of the pie is purely mine and no part of it is purely the Levite’s. Every part that belongs to me, is a potential gift to the Levite. So too, every aspect of my ninety percent is a potential resource for G-d.

That You Gave Me
This provides insight into a fascinating declaration. Once all the tithes were properly distributed, the Jew would pilgrimage to the Temple, declare that the tithes had all been distributed, and petition G-d to, “Look down from Your holy dwelling, from the heavens, and bless Your people Israel, and the ground which You have given to us… a land flowing with milk and honey”[3]

The ground on which I live, the flowing milk and honey that I enjoy, is not mine. It is a gift from G-d. When I give my ten percent with a proper perspective, it lifts my ninety percent to a whole new level. It is no longer mine. It is G-d’s. He gifted it to me. And if He did, I should use it as He would want me to.

Not for self-pleasure and aggrandizement, not as a selfie at the center of which I sit in my full glory, but as a snapshot that places G-d at the center. If you will allow me to coin a brand-new word on the basis of this essay, I would say, don’t make a selfie. Go make a G-ddie.[4]

[1] Numbers, 18:21.

[2] Ibid, 15.

[3] Deuteronomy, 26:15.

[4] This essay is based on Likutei Sichos:18, pp. 221-226.

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