Ancient Advice for Social Media

Image: The words of Elohai N’tzur on page 180 of Mishkan Tefilah, the Reform Siddur, CCAR Press, 2007. Photo by Ruth Adar.

This past Shabbat, I noticed an ancient prayer that has a very current application: it’s a great prayer for improving my social media use. The original prayer has been used for centuries, and is based on Psalm 34:14:

Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking guile.

The prayer is best known as Elohai n’tzor [“My God, guard”] and here is the text, with my comments for contemporary social media use. The translation is from Mishkan Tefilah, p 180, with line breaks altered to facilitate my comments in italics:

My God, guard my speech from evil and my lips from deception.

I take responsibility for my own words and behavior. I will speak the truth and conduct myself mindfully.

Before those who slander me, I will hold my tongue;

I will avoid taking the bait offered by trolls and bots. 

I will practice humility.

I will remember that my word is not the last word on any subject, and my sources of information are frequently imperfect. When I have erred in facts or behavior, I will admit it.

Open my heart to your Torah, that I may pursue Your mitzvot.

I will follow the commandments of Torah in my speech, valuing truth over falsehood, and kindness over cleverness. I will keep in mind “lo bushah” [do not embarrass] and I will  avoid rechilut [gossip,]  lashon harah [unnecessary derogatory speech about another,] as well as nivul peh [coarse language.]

As for all who think evil of me, cancel their designs and frustrate their schemes.

I will not engage in flame wars with people whose minds I will never change. My rage rewards a troll; blocking trolls prevents them from getting satisfaction from my reaction.

Act for Your own sake, for the sake of Your Power,

I will own my words and take responsibility for them, because words have power.

for the sake of Your Holiness, for the sake of Your Torah;

I will remember that I am b’tzelem Elohim, made in the image of God, and will behave with dignity.

So your loved ones may be rescued, save with Your power. 

I will maintain my focus and use the power of social media to do good in the world.

And answer me.

I will acknowledge others as I wish to be acknowledged myself.

May the words of my mouth

May the words that I type or say

and the meditations of my heart

And the intent behind those words

be acceptable to You, Eternal, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Meet the standards of derech eretz, decent behavior, as befits a person of Torah.

May the One who makes peace in the high heavens make peace for us, for all Israel, and all who inhabit the earth. Amen.

May we find true communication, a meeting of minds and hearts, that will serve all the people of the earth. Amen.


A Prayer for Social Media

Image: Hands typing on laptop. Mug saying “Keep calm.” Photo by Pexels/Pixabay.

Some people use social media to torment others. Some use it to deceive others. Some use it to manipulate. And there’s no denying that it is useful for all those evil ends.

However, I believe that social media has great potential for good. It can be a way to reach out to others, to support others, to connect with others. It has changed the world several times already. It can help people band together to tell the truth and to do good deeds.

Words create worlds. 

One of the traditional prayers that closes the Amidah reached out to seize me this morning as a prayer for my use of social media:

  1. My God, guard my speech from evil and my lips from deception.
  2. Before those who slander me, I will hold my tongue; I will practice humility.
  3. Open my heart to Your Torah, that I may pursue Your mitzvot.
  4. As for all who think evil of me, cancel their designs and frustrate their schemes.
  5. Act for your own sake, for the sake of your Power,
  6. for the sake of Your Holiness, for the sake of Your Torah;
  7. So that Your loved ones may be rescued, save with Your power.
  8. And answer me. – Mishkan Tefilah, p 180.

On the surface, this prayer may seem to say, “Dear God, please help me be a doormat.” That is not what it says. Bear with me, and let’s look deeper.

“My God” – This prayer is directed at God. If that’s problematic for you, try substituting, “My best self” or “Reaching beyond myself.” This is a prayer about reaching beyond what comes naturally to us.

Line 1 – I want my speech to serve good, not evil. I will be truthful.

Line 2 – I will strive to be active, not reactive. I will stay centered.

Line 3 – Centeredness doesn’t come easily, but I have experienced it through my study of Torah, and I will continue to study. Mitzvot (sacred duties) guide me along that path; I will continue to practice them at this keyboard.

Line 4 – There are people online and in the world who dislike me and who behave badly towards me and towards others. They make me angry and I want them to stop it. (I’m putting this politely. Feel free to insert stronger language as works for you.)

Line 5 – 6  I recognize that I am only one person, with one point of view. I don’t really know what is best for everyone. However I want the best for everyone. So I hope that God, or a Higher Power, or the Good will prevail over me if I’m not right in a particular case.

Line 7 – This is serious stuff. People are suffering, or will suffer. I desperately want there to be less suffering.

Line 8 – I stand up and say this to God and to the Universe: I want action!

This is a prayer about knowing exactly my place in the scheme of things, understanding what I am and am not capable of knowing and doing. It’s a prayer for the kind of humility that can make things happen. It’s a prayer for being the kind of person I want to be, including a reminder to myself that I am not always right, but that I hope for the best.

I say a prayer like this not because I think God is magic and if I say prayers, things will magically happen. I say a prayer like this to remind me of the person I want to be, the person who is centered in Torah and doing good in the world. It’s easy to lose track of that goal unless I remind myself regularly with prayer.

Words are important. They are powerful. They can build dreams, or they can destroy a life. I pray for humility and care in my use of words, today and always, so that I may do good and not evil.