Biblical Wisdom in a ‘Selfie’ Culture
Yael Eckstein | June 25, 2020
This week, we’re proud to share with you this excerpt from Yael’s latest book, Generation to Generation: Passing on a Legacy of Faith to Our Children. We hope you will be enriched by this reflection on the Jewish concept of Tzedakah (righteous giving), and how important it is to teach our children to turn their focus from themselves to remember their responsibility to care for those in need.
Growing up, I loved taking photographs with my father’s camera. To this day, I cherish the pictures I took on our family vacations.
When disposable cameras came out, and my parents bought me one to take on a school trip, I enthusiastically took pictures of everything and everyone. Today, as we well know, cameras are much more available, as nearly every mobile phone has one; I still marvel at the ability to capture special moments with the touch of a button.
Shifting the Focus from Ourselves
Yet, while I am thankful for the modern miracle of photography, I have noticed a trend, especially among children, that concerns me. Our children are growing up in what has been dubbed “the selfie generation.” Most photos that kids take these days are of themselves. The accessibility of digital cameras, the ease of taking self-portraits, and the rise of social media have all led to the popularity of “selfies,” the new term for modern-day digital self-portraits.
From selfies taken from space to comedian Ellen DeGeneres taking a group selfie at an Oscar ceremony, photographic gratification is rampant on the internet and social media. Personally, I take plenty of selfies with the intention of sharing my life in the Holy Land with people of faith around the world.
However, as many sociologists have noticed, the word selfie has taken on a meaning that goes far beyond the object of the camera lens. It’s not just in photos that children are often the focus — it can extend into their lives. The selfie culture turns people’s focus onto themselves — how they look, how many “likes” they get on social media, what kind of clothing they wear, how much fun they have, and so on. What started out as a harmless, fun activity has now been linked to growing rates of depression — and certainly an increase of narcissism.
The Genuine Source of Joy
The great irony, of course, is that focusing on ourselves does not make us happier; rather it robs us of our joy. In contrast, the Bible teaches us about another, more genuine source of joy. Solomon, the wisest man to ever walk the earth, wrote, “he who has mercy on the poor, happy is he” (Proverbs 14:21 NKJV). It is giving to others that truly brings us joy. The challenge for parents today is teaching our children to take the focus off themselves and turn the camera around so that they can see others. We need to teach our children to see the people around them.
First and foremost this includes their friends, their siblings, their parents, and their teachers. But it extends beyond that to the people they encounter in daily life: the bus driver, the janitor, the widow, the orphan, the homeless person on the street corner.
If I Am only for Myself, What Am I?
Only when our children begin to see others’ intrinsic value and suffering can they begin to understand how they can help others. Hillel the Elder, a Torah scholar in the first century BCE, said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”
Essentially, he taught that while we certainly have a responsibility to take care of our own needs, we also have an equally important obligation to help others now, not at some later date when it’s more convenient or when we have more resources. As parents, we absolutely should teach our children to take care of themselves so that they can become independent people. But it is also our job as people of faith to teach them to be givers and to lovingly share what they have with those in need.