It is a difficult balance to respect one’s privacy and still feel engaged in someone’s life. Social media has taught us to record and display each moment, significant or not. We learn about the meaningful occasions like when a baby is born or when someone gets married. But the mundane also clutters our newsfeed: which restaurant someone has tried for the first time and what someone is eating for breakfast is common information. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat instruct us to share, post, emote, and bare all. It is a wonder when someone chooses to hold back information. “Not airing your dirty laundry” is now akin to being aloof. Maintaining one’s privacy has become analogous to snobbish behavior. But it wasn’t always this way and perhaps there is a lesson learned from “holding back.”
Rashi, the great Medieval commentator explains that when Bilaam, a spiritual master sees that the tents of the Jewish nation were arranged so that one entrance did not face another, Bilaam recites one of the most famous verses in Torah.
“How good are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel.”
Rabbi Zelig Pliskin in “Love Your Neighbor” explains, “People are naturally curious and interested in knowing about the comings and goings of their neighbors. That is exactly why our forefathers…encamped in such a manner that would ensure the greatest amount of privacy. When passing someone’s window, we must resist temptation to look in.” Pliskin doesn’t imply that one shouldn’t inquire about someone’s welfare and be compassionate and open when hearing about another’s vulnerabilities and personal strife. Rather, he explains the difference between “camping” outside someone’s home to get the latest scoop and being ready and available when our neighbor is in need.
I can’t help but think about the quality of family life in those tents in the desert. If families were instructed to mind their own business, it means the family had more time to be attentive and thoughtful regarding their own personal life details. Less time worrying about the neighbor’s extramarital affairs, what the kids across the street wore to school, and who has the biggest car. More time caring about family conversations at dinner, the goals and milestones achieved as a family unit, and the mending of the souls closest to our own.
Peek on someone else’s facebook page…we all do. It’s human nature to be curious about the people next door. But make sure you’re spending just as much time peering within the doors of your own home. You’d be surprised to see what’s right before your eyes.