Who here has ever flicked on a light on Shabbos by mistake?
Who here has ever forgotten they just ate some meat and ate a piece of dairy chocolate by mistake?
Who here has ever washed their hands before eating bread and spoke by mistake?
It happens, right? And when it happens, we probably feel bad for a second, then we shrug our shoulders, say, whoops, and move on. Right?
Who here has forgotten a birthday or anniversary of a loved one? Did you shrug your shoulders and say whoops?
You may have, but that probably didn’t end well.
At the end of the day, it’s just a mistake. Why is my spouse throwing things at me and breaking all the China?
Your spouse is throwing things at you because although it is indeed a mistake, deep down, if something is really important to us, if we really cared, it’s unlikely we would have made a mistake.
That is the premise of the Korban Chatas, a sin offering, that we learned about this morning. This offering which was not cheap and took a lot of time to prepare was not brought for a deliberate sin. It was brought when we made a whoops. We are mandated to bring this expensive, time-consuming offering, we are told that we need to atone because we make mistakes when we are careless, not careful. We make mistakes because deep down, we don’t really care.
Now you may think you care; you may genuinely believe that you care. You may be yelling and screaming, I really care about Shabbos, I just forgot that it’s Shabbos. I really care about you honey, I just forget that it’s your birthday.
But the Torah, by mandating a kaparah, an atonement, for these mistakes, is telling us that deep down, so deep we may genuinely be completely unaware of those feelings, but deep down we don’t care or we just don’t care enough, and therefore we are guilty. I hope I’m not causing shalom bayis issues with this talk…
We often say we care about things, and we truly think we care, but we often don’t know what we really care about.
The greatest proof to this is – TikTok. That’s right, TikTok, the social media best known for silly videos of teens dancing.
The CEO of TikTok spent Thursday on Capitol Hill getting grilled by politicians, mostly about the possibility of the app being used by the Chinese as a spying tool. Now there are many ways the Chinese spy on the US, some subtle, some balloon-in-the-sky-not-so-subtle. Why is congress so worked up about TikTok?
The simple answer is that TikTok is ridiculously popular. From the Washington Post – “TikTok’s website was visited last year more often than Google. No app has grown faster past a billion users, and more than 100 million of them are in the United States, roughly a third of the country. The average American viewer watches TikTok for 80 minutes a day — more than the time spent on Facebook and Instagram, combined. And while half of TikTok’s U.S. audience is younger than 25… the industry analyst eMarketer expects its over-65 audience will increase this year by nearly 15 percent. AARP last year even unveiled a how-to guide.”
Why is TikTok so popular?
One simple reason – TikTok knows you better than you know yourself.
Most social media apps, like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, ask you what your interests are. Or, they ask you to follow people. The algorithm then goes ahead and sends you videos or posts based on your choices of what you want. Or – what you think you want.
TikTok doesn’t care what you say. They calculate how long you linger on a particular video. They calculate every time you swipe a certain type of video. They build your personal profile not through the conscious choices you make, but base entirely on your behaviors. As one columnist recently put it, “I’m one TikTok away from walking into my next therapy session and simply handing (my therapist) my [TikTok] ‘For You’ page in place of explaining how I am.” If you want to know what you really care about, go download TikTok – after Shabbos. The reason this social media app is so popular is because it really gets us; it understands us better than we understand ourselves.
And so the next time we make a mistake and we tell ourselves, it was a real honest mistake, it’s worth remembering that maybe just maybe, I think I care, but I don’t. Despite the most sophisticated self-awareness, there are levels of consciousness that may be beyond our reach. I may click, Follow Shabbos, Follow Love, but deep down, there may be something else going on. And that’s why we have the Korban Chatas – through our mistakes, we are given a window not into who we think we are, but who we really are.
But that’s not where the Korban Chatas ends, nor is it where TikTok ends.
The goal of the sin-offering is not just self-awareness. Some people love therapy because they get to talk about themselves endlessly. Not only that, but someone is listening to them. But that’s not Judaism’s view of growth. Self-awareness for the sake of self-awareness is just self-gratification. Self-awareness needs to breed self-transformation. Don’t be yourself. Be better.
TikTok’s power is not only that it can tell us who we are; it can also change us. In my opinion, the most insidious feature of TikTok is not the Chinese. It’s the fact that it’s changing our minds – especially the highly malleable minds of teenagers. A critical life skill is the ability to delay gratification. I could spend time in school because in a decade from now, it will pay off. I will be a faithful spouse because even though I may have some instant gratification, it will ruin a lifetime. I will save money and not have as much fun right now so that I will be able to pay for needed expenses in the future. In a world, or on an app where I’m getting dopamine hits every twenty seconds, our ability to self-regulate, to have patience, to make wise choices, it’s all out the window. That’s just one of countless examples. Social media is changing the way we think and the way we act. There are significant studies that are showing that social media is the prime cause of the explosion of mental health issues in teenagers these days.
And while that’s depressing, it’s also uplifting. Because that means we can change. If by spending eighty minutes a day on an app, we can become more impatient, then with some work and time, we can become more patient. If we can become more judgmental, we can become more accepting. If we could become more critical, then we can become more complimentary. We can change who we are.
That’s what we’re doing when we bring a korban. It’s not just an act of self-awareness. I now realize that I don’t care enough about Shabbos, my community, my spouse, G-d, whatever it may be. But that’s not enough. We then spend time finding the perfect animal and then we take it to the Kohein, who goes ahead and slaughters it in front of our eyes, sprinkles its blood all over the place, chops it up, and throws half the animal on the altar. And you’re thinking this is gross. This is disgusting. I feel like I want to vomit. How does this work?
The Ramban says that is exactly the point. The experience at the Temple, with the blood splashing everywhere, and the animals screaming, and the fire, is meant to be a shocking experience. It is meant to be so intense that it catapults us into a whole new way of life.
There are two ways to change ourselves; one is day in and day out, small adjustments that with time make a big difference. But there is a different way to change – a moment of intensity. A powerful experience. Something so intense, so overwhelming that we just can’t go back to our old way of life.
Says the Ramban, you go to the Bais Hamikdash, you’re over-awed by its beauty, overtaken by the powerful music, and then your animal is taken, your animal is slaughtered, your animal’s blood is sprinkled – that moment of intensity can change your forever.
I’ve been on a bit of a crusade for the past few years, telling people that Pesach preparation should not be intense. I gave a class three weeks ago, titled, cleaning your house for Pesach in twenty minutes. Last week I gave a class on how to have a Kosher for Pesach kitchen without a single piece of tinfoil. And I stand by all that I said. Pesach does not have to be stressful.
But there’s a counterpoint which needs to be mentioned. There is something beautiful about intensity. Do you have to kasher your countertops and cover them? No. Is treating corn syrup as kitniyos a tremendous stringency? Yes. Is moving every couch, checking every suit pocket, flipping through every book in your home to find chameitz really necessary? Not it is not. And we do not have to. But a little bit of intensity can do us well. It can change who we are.
Rav Tzadok HaKohein observes that the very first Korban Pesach was celebrated with extra intensity; they ate quickly, they moved quickly, they acted in a deliberately extreme fashion. Rav Tazdok explains that to transform from a slave into a free person, to change from one type of person into someone else entirely, you can’t just take baby steps. You need to jump into a new reality. You need to be extreme. You need to be a little crazy.
It’s not only good for us, it’s good for our children. We’re constantly trying to crack the algorithm on how to inspire our children. Many suggest we chill out, we make Judaism light, because if it’s too intense, the children won’t take to it. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks pointed out that the two Jewish holidays that are most widely celebrated are Yom Kippur and Pesach – the two that make the greatest demands on us, the two that are the most extreme.
Pesach is a time of change. Change begins by learning who we are, by being open to the fact that as great as our self-awareness may be, there’s always more to learn. But we don’t stop there. Self-awareness is a means to an end. Through self-awareness we transform. Sometimes with small steps and small changes, and sometimes with acts of intensity. I hope and pray that the next week is a calm one for all of us, but I also encourage you to make space for just a little bit of crazy.