Parashah Ponderings

Zuckerberg’s Halloween or Abraham’s Shabbat?

Parashat Chayei Sara 5782 / פָּרָשַׁת חַיֵּי שָֹרָה
Torah Portion: Genesis 23:1-25:18

If you are someone who gets into Halloween and is okay with Jewish kids trick-or-treating, then let me wish you an early Happy Halloween. If you are like my modern Orthodox friend, with whom I spoke today, then I simply wish you Shabbat Shalom. I asked him, “Did your children do Halloween when they were young?” “Oh, God, no. That’s for the gentiles.” If he is right, then I must be an honorary gentile, because I’m one Jewish boy who thinks Halloween is great.

Another Jewish boy who apparently thinks Halloween is great is Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of what was called Facebook, Inc. until today. As of today, Facebook, Inc, has a new name — Meta Platforms. So “meta” is the ancient Greek word for  “beyond,” “after,” or “behind.” But in Hebrew, “meta” is the feminine form for “dead,” which makes today officially the Day of the Dead in Israel. This is very confusing for people of Mexican heritage living in Israel who were planning on observing Dia de los Muertos on Monday night and Tuesday.

When the new name was announced on Twitter, a Jewish academic tweeted “The Jewish community will ridicule this name for years.” Not so quick, Professor. When volunteers for the Orthodox Jewish emergency rescue service Zaka learned of Facebook’s new name, they tweeted, “Don’t worry, we’re on it.”

Would Zuckerberg, who wrote on his application to Harvard that he could read and write Ancient Greek, French, Hebrew, and Latin, have gone public with the linguistic cross-over name Meta if it hadn’t been the shabbos before Halloween? Coincidence? You be the judge.

Speaking of judges, in the Talmud the rabbis speculate that the Judge of Judges, i.e. God, has a heavenly scribe named Metatron. We even learn that a particular heretic among the rabbis believed Metatron was a deity, a second divine superpower, if you will, though apparently the other rabbis believed Metatron was some form of angel.

I’m pretty sure that when Zuckerberg goes trick-or-treating with his children on Sunday night, he’s going as Metatron. But lest you think the costume will be something like the grim reaper or a Dementor, it’s more likely to look like a cross between Tinkerbell and court report with a stenotype machine. Not so scary until he starts asking for all your personal information and political views.

It turns out that Facebook will still exist, just under the umbrella of Meta, which describes itself on its website as “the next evolution of social connection. Our company’s vision is to help bring the metaverse to life, so we are changing our name to reflect our commitment to this future.” 

Marvel Cinematic Universe now has company, except it won’t be just tweens and comic-book enthusiasts who get sucked in. It’ll be all of us, too! There might even be a special blackhole to take care of all those people investigating Facebook. All of a sudden Zuckerberg’s legal, political and ethical problems will simply disappear into a vortex of time, space and matter.

I’m sure this was an idea planted in Zuckerberg’s brain by his rival billionaires, who are tired of being mocked for launching tourists into space in oddly shaped projectiles.

But, yes, there is a connection to this week’s Torah portion which gives me religious cover for offering up this third-rate late-night tv monologue.

For Zuckerberg, creating Meta is, above all, a business decision. But it’s coming at a time when his main product, Facebook, is coming under close scrutiny for all kinds of reasons. No wonder so many of Zuckerberg’s critics are questioning his motives.

In this week’s Torah portion, we find another Jewish boy making an entirely different kind of business deal but in a way that leaves absolutely no doubt about his motives or his integrity. After his wife Sarah dies, Abraham approaches the Hittite, Ephron, and offers to buy a parcel of land so Abraham can give her a proper burial. Abraham shouts out in the middle of the town square, “I’m not a member of your tribe, but please sell me a burial site.” When the townspeople say, “Sure. Take any spot you want,” Abraham responds, “I just want a cave on that man Ephron’s property.”

Ephron, who is in the crowd, yells out, “It’s yours! Take it. I’m giving it to you.”

But Abraham wouldn’t have it. “No, no. I insist on paying you full price.”

Ephron says, “It’s only 400 shekels. What’s that between friends? Keep your money.”

But Abraham insists. And in front of the crowd that has gathered, reaches into his bag and starts counting out 400 shekels, placing each shekel in the seller’s hand.

That property, The Cave of Machpelah, can be visited today in the town of Hebron. Abraham wanted the locals to know that he was now the legitimate owner of this property, and he eliminated any possibility of someone being able to challenge him in the future.

This business transaction has become the model of ethical business dealings for all time. Abraham was clear about what he wanted, and he made it clear that he would pay the full fair-market price. Everyone could see the transaction was above board.

When we start to keep our business dealings secret, it raises all kinds of suspicions. I’m not one to judge Metatron, um, Mark Zuckerberg, but I’m glad I’m not in his shoes having the world look upon me with suspicion. Most of us will never have the kind of power Zuckerberg wields economically and politically, but we can still glean a lesson from what we read about him on the front page. We can learn that ethics matter in business, in politics, and society. To avoid raising doubts about our integrity, we should all be as transparent in our undertaking as that other Jewish boy, Abraham. 

So if you were wondering who you would dress up as on Halloween, Mark Zuckerberg or Abraham, let me urge you to go with Abraham. Even my Orthodox friend would have to approve of that!

Shabbat Shalom

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