Posted in Rabbi Marchuck's Blog, on June 28, 2013

Interaction Over Distraction

Let’s be clear there are people that are into graduations and those who hate graduations; I am a pro-graduation guy.

Earlier this month I had the special occasion to attended my daughters (twins) high school graduation.  It was a beautiful event complete with inspiring messages and words of optimism. As I listen to the Dean sharing his parting words to the graduates, I found myself in some-type of a time-warp back to my daughter’s nursery-school graduation day. There they were in pigtails still wearing their paper cap and gown with chocolate/vanilla Dixie cup dripping down their faces. I never thought they would one day be these women that are now standing on the dais receiving their diplomas! Time really flies when you’re having fun, and yes, we have had loads of fun through their schooling years!


With that said, I saw the following story in WIRED Magazine that really made me scratch my head:

On January 26, 2008, a 30-year-old part-time entrepreneur named Mike Merrill decided to sell himself on the open market. He divided himself into 100,000 shares and set an initial public offering price of $1 a share. Each share would earn a potential return on profits he made outside of his day job as a customer service rep at a small Portland, Oregon, software company. Over the next 10 days, 12 of his friends and acquaintances bought 929 shares, and Merrill ended up with a handful of extra cash. He kept the remaining 99.1 percent of himself but promised that his shares would be nonvoting: He’d let his new stockholders decide what he should do with his life.

from Mike Merrill's Flickr pageA majority of people do worry about making key life decisions. Most times, they procrastinate deciding by playing on their smartphones, browsing social media, or watching hours of television programs, constantly distracting themselves from the bigger picture. However, Merrill was taking this indecisiveness to a whole new level. To encourage more people to invest in him, he allowed them to have a say over which projects he pursued by voting on his priorities and projects. Additionally, a developer coded a trading platform so Merrill’s stock could be bought and sold. Anybody could now get a piece of him; you just had to click a “buy” button on (the site is an abbreviation of Merrill’s full name: Kenneth Michael Merrill). To a certain extent Merrill had sold himself into a modern-day version of slavery.

As they often say, truth is stranger than fiction.

As I learned about Merrill’s entrepreneurial maneuver, I couldn’t understand why someone would willingly sell shares of himself! Nations have struggled for centuries for freedom, yet here a man gave up his freedom just for the opportunity to make a few bucks. He put the notion of slavery into a whole new level of meaning.

I am currently a part of a study group, which is now focusing on one of the classic Jewish philosophical works, The Mesilot Yesharim (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, 1707–1746). Rabbi Luzzato states that “the desire for money binds a person to this world and places shackles of labor and the pursuit of business upon him.” True, Mike Merrill willingly shackled himself in labor to an extreme extent, however, how many of us aren’t guilty of that same enslavement via some other means? Perhaps not always present in our own lives and families. How many times do we turn to distraction instead of interaction?

 The verse in Devarim 30, 13, references to the easy accessibility of the Torah to us. It states, “Nor is it (The Torah) across the sea [for you] to say, ‘Who can cross to the other side of the sea for us and take it for us, so that we listen to it and perform it?’” The Talmud elucidates this passage to be understood that the Torah does not reside in those who cross the sea for business. Nowadays, that seemingly resonates less true to us, being that travel is a whole lot easier these days. However, one can beg to suggest that even when we are with our families we might have ‘traveled’ far away with our iPhone. We may be physically present but are we truly present?

The Torah encourages us to be decisive, to take our gift of life into our own hands. It encourages us not to enslave ourselves. We thank G-d every day that He liberated us from Egypt. However, perhaps G-d’s plan was not to liberate us from the hands of man just so that we’d be enslaved by our own hand or what is being held in the palm of our hands. As I was reflecting at the graduation, I want to say yes, and more importantly, my daughters often tell me, thank you for our memories and thank you for all the fun and silly things we did together. As my younger children are moving up the grade school ladder, I need to guard against email and he like taking my attention from my more important “iChildren”. Yes, the C should be capitalized because they are far more important than the lower case i.

Have a great month!