With the explosion of social media over the past two decades, it is now possible to “measure” one’s social network. The number of friends or followers that someone has is a new form of currency and identity. In this new landscape of friends and followers, it would appear that older people and baby boomers have a much smaller group of friends than their younger counterparts. It is not uncommon for an older person to quizzically ask, how is it possible for someone to have 5,000 friends? While some of this difference can be attributed to the technological gap between generations, there may be a deeper explanation for this.
In his book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, Daniel Pink cites the research of Laura Carstensen who developed a theory called “socioemotional selectivity”. She discovered that as people approach what they believe to be the final phase of their life, they shift their focus to what matters the most and the people that matter the most to them. In terms of their social network, people at this stage systematically prune their relationships; and “choose to spend our remaining years with networks that are small, tight, and populated with those who satisfy higher needs.”
Over the course of Sefer Bereishit, particularly with the Avot, there is a striking pattern of pruning regarding passing on the Mesorah. Avraham selects Yitzchak, and Yitzchak, in turn, selects Yaakov. Yaakov seemed poised to do the same thing by favoring Yosef over the rest of his sons when Yosef is younger and then again when Yaakov summons Yosef along with Ephraim and Menashe. Yaakov, however, breaks this pattern. Yaakov gathers all of his sons at the end of his life to give a Bracha to every single one of them. This is surprising. Until now, the birthright and primary Bracha was passed on to a single son.
As our nation emerges from what was a single family, Yaakov emphatically expressed the notion that for Am Yisrael, there may never be a pruning process. To illustrate this, Yaakov provides unique Brachot to each of his sons emphasizing the message of individuality among his sons and the tribes they will develop into (Bereishit 49:28). The Torah tells us (Bereishit 49:28) that Yaakov blessed each son according to his own blessing. In other words, Yaakov’s parting message was tailored to each of his sons’ character traits including their unique strengths and weaknesses. After telling us that Yaakov gave a distinct Bracha to each of his sons the verse ends with “he blessed them all.” The Ohr Hachayim explains that the individual blessing given to each son will only be realized when that individual uses those qualities to strengthen the community.
Here at Hebrew Academy we have a sacred mission to cultivate and help bring to fruition the unique contributions of each one of our students. To that end, we have made enormous progress towards a more personalized learning experience. At the same time, as Yaakov so beautifully taught us, we must foster in our students the deep realization that their unique talents are a means to positively impact the world and strengthen Am Yisrael as a whole.
For Am Yisrael, our “social” network is measured through our link to the past and each other and is as numerous as the stars in the sky.