homepage homepage programs

Parashat Balak – Privacy, Our Sacred Space


King Solomon wisely said, “Let others praise you and not your own mouth”.

There is no more beautiful description of the Jewish nation than the statement of our sworn enemy Bilaam .

When he lifted up his eyes and saw the Israelites camping according to their tribes and families, the Divine spirit rested upon him to bless the nation and he declared,

“How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel!”

Now, what was that special quality about their encampments that evoked such a heavenly blessing? Our sages explain this simply to mean that the openings of each family’s tent was facing away from each other, ensuring everyone their privacy.

The right to personal privacy, protecting the individual and his reputation from prying eyes and malicious gossip, is a cornerstone of Jewish law, even though the topic did not even appear in secular law until the past few centuries.

The Torah’s rules of proper social conduct emphasize human dignity, modesty, and the detrimental effects of slander and gossip. 

In the 11th century, long before computer and email hacking became a social pastime, Rabbenu Gershom Me’or Hagolah (Germany, 960-1028) placed a public ban on anyone reading another persons private letters or correspondence!

The Baal Shem Tov noted that if the path to love of G-d is via love of your fellow man, then the path to the reverence of G-d is through the respect of others.

~ Rabbi Shaul