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It’s None of Your Business!

Friday, 8 July, 2011 - 2:00 pm

Hacking is no longer only a hobby for the tech-addicted or deluded. It has become so prevalent that a major newspaper is shuttering its presses due to a hacking scandal.

In the Facebook era, we seem to really live by the Talmudic dictum, “What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is yours.” Any info I post is virtual public knowledge. I may think that I am tweeting something to one individual, but I better be careful– because the whole world may soon know about it.

So what should our attitude be toward an increasingly nosy world with increasingly easy access to our private information? Should we resign ourselves to the fact that we may one day see our own private info on a tabloid? Should we take every possible measure to lock all of our personal data?

I’ve heard the refrain, “I have nothing to hide so I’m not worried.” I’m not certain that everyone takes that position, but I’m not sure the Torah agrees with it either.

***

In this week’s Torah portion of Balak we read about Bilaam’s attempts to curse the Jewish people. In the end, not only did he fail to jinx the Children of Israel – he delivered some powerful blessings instead. One of his more famous lines, “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob; you dwellings, O Israel,” has become part of the daily Jewish liturgy. The poetry and prose is beautiful – but what did Bilaam mean with this statement? What was so great about the tents and dwellings of the Jews?

Rashi explains that he saw that they pitch their tents so the doorways should not be opposite each other (respecting each other's privacy). This was something novel to Bilaam. In other societies, everyone was eager to see and hear as much as possible to share in the gossip column. But the Jewish people respected each other’s private space.

This does seem highly commendable, but what might it backhandedly suggest about what transpires behind the scenes? What was there to hide in the first place?

***

The true message of Bilaam goes beyond my duty not to eavesdrop or hack my neighbor’s phone. It talks to the essence of privacy and modesty, tzniut. Tzniut is not merely shielding others from damaging personal information. Tzniut is about priding ourselves in the sanctity of modesty.

The union between husband and wife, for example, is nothing to be ashamed of. Quite the contrary, it is considered a most holy moment. The privacy of such a time is not due to embarrassment from others. Some things are simply hallowed in privacy. They are too sacred to be exploited as public property.

Bilaam had an epiphany when witnessing the Jewish camp. They have nothing to hide, yet they still afford each other with privacy! Hollywood may still be in need of an awakening, but we can take pride in the lessons of our people.

Comments on: It’s None of Your Business!
7/22/2011

grant wrote...

Rabbi Mendel,

Thank you VERY much for reminding me of the power of our very words. We speak either life or death...........there is NO middle ground.

If we only truly realized the power of those words we would be both careful and more forthright.

again....Baruch HaShem for reminder to guard the words we speak.
...grant