Internet Trolling or Would You Rather Be Right or Be Happy? (Parshah Terumah)

This dvar has three parts.

  1. Details, details, details.
  2. Internet Trolling
  3. Being Right vs. Being Happy.

Let’s start from the beginning (that’s always the best place to start, right?)

(And kudos to you if you can tell me what movie/book that line comes from!)

Details, details, details: Parshah Terumah

When you write a dvar Torah, the goal is to find something in the text that speaks to you as the writer, then expand upon it and relate that to life today. Parshah Terumah explains in painfully exciting boring detail the construction of the mishkan in the wilderness. So in theory, I could pick any number of interesting highlights like the Holy of Holies, the Showbread, or anything else and probably do a decent job of finding a spiritual lesson in this How-To-Build-A-Tabernacle IKEA-esque instruction manual.

Internet Trolling

Having spent way too much time on websites like Facebook, Tumblr and Reddit, I’ve learned that the key to living a Jewish life online is to constantly argue. Constantly. Argue. About…details! Especially if someone misquotes something, types something incorrectly, or does not have an argument that holds up to proper halachic judgement. Something about the Internet makes us belief, falsely, that we are the Sanhedrin and all other people are the accused.

The best is when someone goofs up a detail. I don’t know who said it, or the context, but the quote, “the devil is in the details” is certainly true.

Internet trolling, in a desperate attempt to destroy people, and their theology, philosophy, politics, religion, or favorite LOLCAT videos must be a day job for some people, because it’s amazing how much time people put into it.

Apparently it’s a huge problem. Bigger than I knew when I first started looking into it. Internet trolling has been linked to mental illness in some people. Moms are cyber bulling each other on parenting websites. And even the family of someone who committed suicide gets no relief from trolls.

I’m not a psychologist, but just as a passive observer, it seems like this meme gets it right:


…which begs this question.

Would you rather be right or be happy?

I mentioned earlier that Parshah Terumah is about the details of the construction of God’s dwelling place on Earth. Those are details you want to get right, for sure.

But what about everything else?

Do we bring God’s holiness into the world if we are right all the time?

Does God give us bonus points if we are right, and everyone knows it?

And if we sincerely believe that, then what does that say about us? What does that say about our personality? What gives us the policing power to do that, and if we elect ourselves as God’s representative, then what room does that give, as the bracha goes, for “God who is the True Judge?”

It boils down to a question I often ask myself: would I rather be right, or be happy?

I started asking myself this question years ago when I was in rock bands. I’d have an idea for what I wanted, whether it was a song structure, or a marketing idea for an album, or even a tee shirt design. If a band mate disagreed, I’d ask myself whether I’d rather be “right” about the issue, or be happy, by avoiding that conflict all together.

And often, something funny happened: when I decided to let go of the need to be right, I found myself incredibly happy.

I realized that by closing my mouth, by not getting involved, by allowing the waters of time to simply flow around me, that whatever I thought was important at the time, ultimately went away. And sometimes, shockingly enough, without even trying, my idea or my thought about something ended up being arrived at. Sometimes it worked. And sometimes it didn’t. But it got a fair shot, which it wouldn’t have had I spent all my time turning blue in the face trying to justify my rightness. And I didn’t feel like a total loser if it didn’t work out.

Let’s talk more…

Are there details that just don’t matter, ultimately?

Do you ever feel the need to make others unhappy so that you can be right?

And seriously, would you rather be right, or be happy?

Rabbi Patrick is the executive director of PunkTorah.