Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9 Finding Your FOMO

If someone informed you that you missed a lecture about organic chemistry, you probably wouldn’t have thought you missed anything because the subject matter doesn’t interest you (i.e. if you are like most people). However, if an iconic actor, athlete, or politician, was giving a sold out talk your city and you were not able to get a ticket, you would feel like you missed something. In 21st century psychological terms, the anxiety you experience from missing an event that so many others in your social circle attended is called FOMO, Fear of Missing Out. But FOMO existed long before this century, and is hinted to in the Torah’s discussion of the Jewish army. Before going to war, an order was given that any soldier who had recently built a house, planted a vineyard, or was engaged but not yet married, should return home. And the officers will speak to the people, saying, what man is there who has built a new house and has not [yet] inaugurated it? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the war, and someone else inaugurate it. And what man is there who has planted a vineyard, and has not [yet] redeemed it? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the war, and someone else redeem it. And what man is there who is engaged but not yet married? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the war, and another man take his fiancée.” (Deut. 20:5-7) It’s hard to understand this order, which is directed to those putting their lives on the line for a noble cause; the Land of Israel and the safety of the people who will reside there. The recent house builder, planter, or groom, know they are soldiers, isn’t it obvious that they might die in battle; that’s one of the unfortunate and tragic consequences of war. Every soldier knows he might be killed in the line of duty, but these idealistic young men are told to abandon the cause (i.e. leave the battlefield) and return home because someone else might end up living in their new house, taking their new vineyard or marrying their soon to be bride. Why do these soldiers get a special exemption? Maharal (16th century Chief Rabbi of Prague, Talmudist, Kabbalist, and philosopher) answers that although the possibility of death exists for all soldiers, there is a concern that these soldiers might be more likely to cause their own death due to their being distracted. When the Torah says “lest he die in the war,” it refers to a concern for his emotional health. If a soldier will be thinking, “what happens if I die and someone else takes over my house” that anxiety will cause him not be as conscious on the battlefield. He might be physically present but his conflicting thoughts will take his mind elseware. The possibility of missing out on things (house, land, wife) in which he has invested so much of himself, will potentially distract him to the point that his life will be in danger and therefore he cannot participate in any battles; he must go home. The above is an ancient example of FOMO but in 2019 it manifests itself through millennials and generation Z, who see videos and pictures of friends on social media appearing happy, having a great time at a party, sports or other event, but they (the ‘unfortunate’) who were not there, sit at home thinking how much they are missing. They haven’t even begun to build, plant, or marry, but their attachment to social media is almost addictive because they are scared if they not are constantly connected, they might miss out on something.How does one avoid FOMO? It begins with asking yourself, “what matters to me?” If that’s too daunting, ask, “why does this particular event matter to me?” Sometimes there are circumstances beyond one’s control, however it could be the reason you didn’t go was because something else was more important to you, perhaps studying so that you can get into the college or graduate school of choice. Maybe you were working out or doing some other chosen activity. Maybe you simply chose not to freeze outside sitting on a cold bench for 3 hours. Once you know what matters to you, you will realize that you aren’t missing out at all because what you are doing has far greater significance to you than the anxiety causing event.Knowing what matters to you is the first step in truly understanding yourself and, consequently, you will know what you are prepared to work for. Then, FOMO is emotionally beneficial because it shows you it’s possible (because you see other people doing it). There is a ancient Jewish question we are meant to ask ourselves, when will my actions reach those of my forefathers?This is a positive use of FOMO because it gives me something for which to strive; it gives life meaning. It gives me the ability to give my unique gift to the world.We are decedents of intelligent, educated, and socially aware people who brought heretofore unknown concepts to humanity. When you understand and focus on the fact that G-d put you in the world for a purpose, one that only you-no one else-can accomplish, then you are using FOMO in a positive way; your only fear will be not reaching the potential you know you possess.What’s your real FOMO?    (Sources: Gur Aryeh 20:5; Tana D’vei Eliyahu Raba 25)
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 Good Shabbos
Rabbi Oppenheim
Charlotte Torah Center