The Value of Privacy
This week, the Torah portion outside of Israel is both Parshat Chukat and Parshat Balak. The Torah portion read in Israel is Parshat Balak.
For the Parshat Chukat, click here:
Many people who are very careful to respect other people's property sometimes fail to respect something even more important: another person's privacy. When the Jewish people were traveling through the desert on the way to the land of Israel, they camped together in thousands of tents. Yet they made sure that no two tents had openings facing each other. This ensured that no one would look into anybody else's tent and invade their privacy.
This act of mutual respect was so precious to God, that He caused Bilaam, their greatest enemy, to bless the Jews instead of cursing them as he had intended. When we respect people's privacy, we show that we respect who they are.
In our story, some friends learn about the value of privacy.
"Hey guys, you're not going to believe this!" squealed Kenny, as he pressed his eye against the wall above his bunk bed.
At first none of the boys, who were crashed out after a long afternoon of sports, paid him much attention. But what he told them next, perked everybody up in a flash. "I can see through this hole in the wall, right into Andy's room!"
Immediately ten pairs of feet jumped out of their bunks and piled onto Kenny's bed, angling to get a glimpse of their counselor's private room.
Andy always kept his door locked and made it clear that the area was 'off limits' to campers. But now the guys finally had their chance to get a free peek into the 'forbidden zone'.
"Take a look!" laughed Kenny, as he made way for the next kid. "What a mess! Andy always complains that we don't keep the bunk clean enough, and his room looks like a tornado hit it!"
"And check out all those snacks! Looks like our counselor is a real junk-food junkie!" added Rob with a howl.
Soon it was Ben's turn to peek in, but the boy startled his friends when instead of looking into the peephole, he covered it with his hand and wouldn't let anyone else get near.
"Hey what are you doing?!" called out the guys, indignantly. "Take your turn, move on and let someone else enjoy the show."
But the kid wouldn't budge. "This 'show' is someone else's private space. We can't just peek in like it's some movie or something. How would you like it if..."
But Kenny and some of the other boys didn't want to listen. They got mad and started pushing Ben out of the way, when just then, they heard some loud voices outside the cabin. It was Andy!
All the kids quickly jumped back, trying to look as casual as possible as the counselor walked in.
"Hi guys!" said Andy with his usual upbeat voice.
"What is he doing here?" Kenny whispered to one of the boys. "It's Wednesday - Andy's afternoon off!"
The mystery was soon solved. "Today is bunk inspection day," he informed them. "No big deal, I just have to make sure everything is neat and shipshape. So everyone please open up your foot lockers."
The boys were annoyed. "What?" protested Kenny. "That's our private space. You have no right to snoop around our stuff..."
Even as he was saying it, Kenny could feel Ben's incredulous stare. After all, weren't they all just doing the same thing they were accusing Andy of now - invading someone's privacy?
The counselor and the boys argued back and forth, until they reached a compromise: the inspection would be put off until the following day so the guys could have time to put away anything private.
Andy walked out and soon enough a couple of the kids went back over to Kenny's bunk to peek in the hole. But this time it was Kenny who blocked the way. He pulled out the big wad of bubble gum he had been chewing and stuffed it in the peephole.
"Sorry guys, the show is over ... forever."
Kenny then turned to Ben and said, "You were right. A guy's privacy is important. Thanks for reminding us how to respect the people behind the peephole."
Q. How did Kenny feel at first about peeking into Andy's room?
A. He thought it was okay and was mad that Ben tried to stop him.
Q. How did he feel after Andy came in to look through his locker?
A. He realized that it's important to respect other people's privacy, just like he wanted others to respect his.
Q. Why is it important to respect people's privacy?
A. We all have parts of our lives that we wish to share with others and parts that we prefer to keep only to ourselves or those very close to us. When we respect someone's privacy and don't go crashing in to where we don't belong, we show the other person that we respect his right to truly be himself and only share with us that which he feels comfortable.
Q. What are some other ways we can respect people's privacy?
A. We can be careful always to knock before we enter a room instead of just barging in. We can also refrain from reading people's private mail, diaries, etc. Even not being nosy and not asking people personal questions with no good reason is a way of respecting their privacy.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Do you think that close friends should ideally have no barriers between them, or is it healthier for each of them to maintain a degree of privacy? Why?
A. While it may seem in theory that closeness requires totally revealing oneself, it doesn't work out that way. It is true that we will want to share more of ourselves with those close to us than with others who are not, but there is still a part of ourselves that we naturally want to keep to ourselves. If these borders aren't respected, a person will begin to feel invaded and pull away, causing the friendship to weaken.
Q. When someone steals another's privacy, what exactly does he steal?
A. To many people, their privacy is their most valued possession. Privacy is the breathing space to let each of us develop into our own, unique selves. It gives us time to reflect on the most important issues in our lives and build close personal relationships with those to whom we choose to draw close. To 'steal' this from someone is to withhold one of life's most basic and essential freedoms.