Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg gave the commencement address at Harvard University on Thursday, closing his speech by sharing a Jewish prayer called the “Mi Shebeirach,” which he said he recites whenever he faces a big challenge and which he sings to his daughter, thinking of her future, when he tucks her in at night.
“It goes, ‘May the source of strength who blessed the ones before us help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing,’ ” he said. “I hope you find the courage to make your life a blessing.”
Zuckerberg was quoting a version of the “Mi Shebeirach” prayer for healing that was written by Debbie Friedman, one of the most significant Jewish musicians of the past 50 years.
Many synagogues of all kinds have adopted Friedman’s version of the prayer. Toward the end of the service, they typically read the names of sick people, or ask people to speak the names of their own loved ones who are ill, and then they sing the prayer.
On Christmas Day last year, Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook status that he was “celebrating Christmas.” A commenter asked him if he was an atheist. Zuckerberg identified himself as an atheist for years, but on Facebook on Christmas he responded: “No. I was raised Jewish and then I went through a period where I questioned things, but now I believe religion is very important.”
He didn’t answer further questions about what he believes. He met Pope Francis in 2016 to discuss bringing communication technology to the world’s poor.
In his address, he urged students to work toward something bigger than themselves.
“I’m here to tell you that finding your purpose isn’t enough,” he said. “The challenge for our generation is to create a world where everyone has a sense of purpose.”
Sense of purpose is especially important today, he said.
“When our parents graduated, that sense of purpose reliably came from your job, your church, your community,” he said. “But today technology and automation are eliminating many jobs. Membership in a lot of communities is declining.”
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