We live in an age which has witnessed the rise of the “influencer”. The idea of being an influencer has become so prominent that a recent survey cited by Business Insider found that whereas once upon a time, kids used to dream of being an astronaut, they are now three times as likely to want to be vloggers or youtube stars– to be influencers. But what is an influencer, exactly? Wired magazine defines it as “someone (or something) with the power to affect the buying habits or quantifiable actions of others by uploading some form of original—often sponsored—content to social media platforms…the value of the content in question is derived from the perceived authority—and, most importantly, authenticity—of its creator.”
What this makes abundantly clear is that our daily lives are filled with people intentionally and vigorously seeking to influence how we consume, act…live. But of course, influencers have the power that they do because of one key factor; we give them our attention. This raises an important question for us. Who and what do we give our attention to? Who do we allow to play the coveted role of “influencer” in our lives?
Rabbi Yitzhak Aboab da Fonseca, though he lived in the 17th C., writes a comment to this week’s parasha that speaks directly to these questions. Specifically, he comments on the words which the ancient priests, the cohanim, were instructed to bless the people with and elaborates what each element of that blessing entails. The blessing, referred to as birkat cohanim, is known to many of us, as it is the same with which children are blessed by their parents every Friday night in Jewish homes. It reads as follows:
יברכך ה’ וישמרך
יאר הי פניו אליך ויחונך
ישא ה’ פניו אליך וישם לך שלום
May Adonai bless you and guard you
May Adonai make the divine face to shine upon you and be gracious to you
May Adonai lift the divine face to you and grant you peace
Commenting on the center part of the blessing, “May Adonai make the divine face to shine upon you and be gracious to you”, Rabbi da Fonseca writes the following:
“Alumbre Adonai sus fazes a ti, que te haga participe de su Divina y immediate influencia: porque cuando es cara a cara, entonces es más eficaz;
May Adonai illuminate the Divine face upon you, that it cause you to participate in God’s divine and closely present influence: for when something is face to face, it is more effective”
For Rabbi da Fonseca this central core of the birkat cohanim is a blessing that God’s presence be the great influencer in our lives.
But of course, that leads us to ask, how do we actualize the blessing for God to be this kind of influencer in our lives? In the same way we make other things influencers, and as the very blessing suggests, by making face time with it. We can each imagine the face time we give to social or other kinds of media. What would it look like to give our face time even just a few minutes more each day to the study of the Tanakh, Talmud, or Mussar? To taking the time to recite our tefillot or berakhot with a bit more intention? To seeing the face of God in those we encounter throughout the day? With the express intention of allowing those things to influence us for the good.
I don’t think isolating one’s self from social media and its influencers entirely is practical or necessarily helpful. In today’s world, it is the hub of many important interactions. On the other hand, I believe most of us can channel more of the draw it exerts on us in the direction of God, the Source of all blessing. Especially as we stand now in the soft glow of Shavuot which just passed earlier this week, we can consider what new or renewed commitment we can make to give God more face time, and place God’s presence as our most cherished influencer.
In doing so, may we help ourselves and others manifest the final part of birkat cohanim more fully, “and May the Eternal grant you peace”, or as R’ da Fonseca paraphrases “y ponga a ti paz, que es la ultima y perfecta felicidad/May God grant you peace, which is the final and most perfect happiness”
(This piece was also a contributing post at shaartsafon.org)