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The Value of 140 Characters

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I tend to believe that there are lessons to be learned in the world, and that most of them eventually connect within Jewish life. This is even the case in the social media world.

Twitter, for example, is great for getting the word out when you have some earth-shattering news to spread or pearls of wisdom to share. The only challenge is getting that message to fit into 140 little characters. The result, as most of us know, is that we either end up not saying everything we want to say or we throw grammar out the window. But what I totally like about Twitter is that it really forces me to think about exactly what I want to say.

There was a Jewish leader who lived in Poland named Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan (1838-1933). He was famously known as the ”Chofetz Chaim,” which means “seeker of life.” This is because one of the many books he authored was a called Chofetz Chaim. It's a digest of laws of speech and gossip or, in Hebrew, lashon hara.

During his lifetime, the Chofetz Chaim was all about teaching people why Judaism is against using words to harm others. He even had some pretty impressing sayings like, “Once you speak lashon hara about someone it is as difficult to take those words back as it to collect the feathers from a pillow that have blown in the wind.” When the telegraph was invented and he learned people were charged by the letter, he observed that the machine will help people understand the cost of what they say (no pun intended).

This brings me back to the value of words. Back when cell phone plans only charged per text message (thank God for unlimited texting) I understood the “cost” of a message in literal terms. Having to conform to Twitter's rule of 140 characters helps me be mindful of what I say, how I say it, and even the responsibility (or consequences) of spreading it.

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