Recently, Facebook has been abuzz over a security video shot at the Kotel of a man beating his elder daughter. (I'd link to it, but YouTube removed it.) The video is simultaneously both mesmerizing and horrifying: sickening to see a man not just strike his older daughter - which is prohibited in halachah, but also push her down onto stone steps. You watch a helpless mother literally turn away, unwilling or unable to watch the man as he hits the child. Watching the video is like rubbernecking. You know that you should hit the gas and keep moving, but you can't help slowing down to get a good look.
Yet, you (the viewer) knows that this wasn't a one-time incident. Sooner or later, the man will hit his daughter again.
The video struck (no pun intended) me in another way was well. Watching the video in horror, I couldn't help but wonder: what if cameras caught me at my worst, and someone posted it for the world to see? I can honestly state that it doesn't come near the level of the video, but it certainly would be embarrassing, terribly so. The Midrash tells us that after sinning with Batsheva, David Hamelech begged God to leave the story out of the Bible, which I can understand. How would you feel knowing that every educated Jew for the rest of time would know about your worst, most troubling behavior.
All of this seems particularly relevant around this time of year. On Rosh Hashanah, we acknowledge that God sits before us in divine judgment, with the Book of Memories open to our page. But now its pretty clear to me that it's not any old book. It's an iPad. And all God needs to do is click on the link for each day of the year, to watch the YouTube video of me forgetting to bentch, yell at my kids, waste time blogging on the Internet, or any of the other things I'm not actually going to tell you.
Ages ago, Albert Brooks made a film called "Defending Your Life," which imagined that people had to watch the mistakes they had made during their lifetimes after they had died. It's not a new concept. But watching that man on YouTube at the kotel reminded me once again that the cameras are indeed there, whether we see them or not. And they are recording.