It was the biggest non-story of our time: ostensibly, music superstar Justin Bieber was seen on the street eating a burrito. But rather than eating it from the end like a hot dog, as a normal person would, he was eating it from the center like an ear of corn. This is something that would only be done by an alien from another galaxy, completely unfamiliar with the concepts of Earth, food, mouths and burritos.
This “story,” which started on Reddit, went viral on social media and was picked up by a number of news and entertainment outlets, including Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan, and even the BBC. Jezebel wrote that Bieber ate a burrito “much like a demon might eat a small child.” USA Today questioned whether the offender in the photo was in fact even Justin Bieber. (Good call, USA Today!)
Allie Conti, a writer on the web site Vice, attempted to replicate Bieber’s sideways burrito-eating style. She wrote, “Is it possible that someone worth $265 million, who has a house in LA, and has vacationed (albeit disastrously) in Tulum, has never actually eaten a burrito? Or does the globe-trotting 24-year-old simply know something the rest of us do not?” To use Conti’s phrase “albeit disastrously,” that’s how her experiment ended up. She concluded that “Being too famous to enjoy a solitary meal in public is the absolute only reason someone would choose to desecrate a perfect food item in such a way. … [T]his is no way to eat a burrito. And anyone who does so is stupid.”
Astute readers will pick up from my use of the word “ostensibly” and praise for USA Today’s skepticism that it was not in fact Justin Bieber desecrating the poor burrito in the photo. Nor was it a random lookalike. Rather, the entire “story” was fabricated by a YouTube channel called Yes Theory. “Bieber” (again with the scare quotes!) was in reality the pop star’s doppelgänger, Brad Sousa. The shocking – shocking! – photo was contrived as an Internet hoax.
What struck me about this entire incident was that the Yes Theory team invested a lot of effort into this prank – getting the Bieber impersonator, staging the photo shoot, disseminating the photo, etc. – all confident that people would actually care enough to make it go viral. And they were right.
So Yes Theory wasted everybody’s time – sharing, commenting, writing and posting articles – all on an event that didn’t actually happen. But let’s say that it had been Bieber. Would that have made the “news” any less nonsensical? True or false, investment in this non-story seems to be an equally big waste of time.
We see from the tochacha (the “rebuke” in parshas Ki Savo) that having our time wasted is a curse. Among the punishments for spurning God, we are told that “You will betroth a wife but another man will (marry) her; you will build a house and not dwell in it; you will plant a vineyard and not use its fruit” (Deuteronomy 28:30) and “The fruit of your land, and all your labors, a foreign nation will consume” (ibid., verse 30).
Conversely, the prophet Isaiah tells us that one of the blessings of the messianic era is that our time will not be wasted: “They will not build for another to inhabit; they will not plant for another to eat…They will not toil in vain or produce futilely” (Isaiah 65:22-23). This verse is paraphrased in the prayer U’va L’Tziyon, in the line that starts Hu yiftach libeinu: “May He open our hearts through His Torah…so that we do not toil in vain or produce futilely.”
We pray every day not to have our time wasted but how much of it do we just throw away? Throughout the book of Koheles (Ecclesiastes), King Solomon tells us that human activities are temporal, fleeting and ultimately inconsequential (or, as he concisely puts it, hevel). Therefore, we should do everything in our power to make our time count. Yes Theory didn’t waste our time by hoaxing us; we wasted our own time by investing any thought whatsoever into how Canadian pop stars eat Mexican food.
Here’s a sentiment I never thought I’d express: You know who I really respect in this whole incident? Justin Bieber. Throughout the whole embarrassing flap, Bieber never stepped forward to comment that it wasn’t him. If anyone in the world had a reason to care about this, it was him. If he couldn’t be bothered with such nonsense, why should we?
Time is a precious gift as well as a limited resource. God gives us a certain amount with which to do our best. Most of us are not on so lofty a level that we won’t waste some of it. If this incident teaches us anything, it’s that – real or fake – we should be discriminating about the things we let eat up those ticking seconds.
Number of times the word “Bieber” appears in this article: 13
Rabbi Jack Abramowitz is Torah Content Editor at the Orthodox Union. He is the author of six books, including The Tzniyus Book and The Taryag Companion. His latest work, The God Book, is available from OU Press as well as on Amazon.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.