Parshas Vayikra: Privacy 101

This coming Shabbos we open Sefer Vayikra, the third of the Five Books of Torah.  Vayikra is also known by its appellation, Toras Kohanim – the Law Book for Priests, because of the myriad laws related to priestly rituals. 

While on the surface, Sefer Vayikra seems to be an esoteric book with little relevance to our lives, like all of Torah, there is much to be gleaned from its holy words.

The Sefer begins: ויקרא אל משה וידבר ה׳ אליו מאהל מועד לאמר – And He called to Moshe, and Hashem spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying: דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם, אָדָם כִּי-יַקְרִיב מִכֶּם קָרְבָּן, לַיהוָה–מִן-הַבְּהֵמָה, מִן-הַבָּקָר וּמִן-הַצֹּאן, תַּקְרִיבוּ, אֶת-קָרְבַּנְכֶם – Speak to the Children of Israel, and say to them: When a man from amongst you brings an offering to Hashem, from the animals, from cattle or from the flock you shall bring your sacrifice (Lev.1:1-2). 

While today we do not have the Beis HaMikdash where we can offer korbanos to Hashem, the lessons of Torah are relevant in every time, every place, and every generation.

R’ Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb writes, “‘There is no such thing as privacy anymore.’  ‘There are no secrets anymore.’  These are two complaints that are heard frequently nowadays.  We live in a world of cell phones and email, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter.  We have no privacy, for almost anyone can reach us wherever we are, whatever we happen to be doing, at all times of the day.  And we can have no secrets, because anyone who knows anything about us can spread it to the entire world in a matter of seconds.

“How often have I sat down for a moment of private time, for study or contemplation, or just to ‘chill out,’ only to have the silence disrupted by some total stranger who managed to obtain my cell phone number?  How many dozens of emails and blogs fill up the space of my inbox with communications that are, at best, of no interest to me and often are offensive and obnoxious?  We once felt entitled to privacy and courtesy, but they no longer seem achievable…

“The right to privacy and the ability to assume confidentiality are universal human values.  It is important to know that they are primary Jewish values as well.  Sources for these values in our tradition include Parshas Vayikra.  This might come as a surprise to you, dear reader, because you know that Parshas Vayikra is the introduction to the Leviticus, the biblical book that focuses upon sacrifices and Temple ritual.  This parsha, especially, seems limited to the comprehensive and complex details of sacrificial offerings.  Where is there even a hint of these contemporary concerns, courtesy and confidentiality?

“The first two verses in the first chapter of Vayikra say it all, albeit between the lines, ‘The L-rd called to Moshe and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying, Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them…

“The rabbis of the Talmud saw in these simple and direct phrases two subtle messages.  First of all, the L-rd called to Moshe first and then spoke to him.  He didn’t surprise Moshe.  He didn’t intrude on Moshe’s privacy and autonomy.  First, He called to him.  He knocked on Moshe’s door, as it were, ringing the bell first, asking to be invited in.  No unwanted intrusion, even from the L-rd Almighty, to his favorite prophet!

“…On the same page in Tractate Yoma, the rabbis find another message in the deceptively simple opening verses of our parsha, ‘saying: Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them.’  From the redundancy here ‘say,’ and ‘speak,’ and ‘say,’ the rabbis derive the lesson that when someone tells you something, you are forbidden to share it with another unless you are given explicit permission to do so. 

“Moshe was not permitted to retell even the divine message that he heard until G-d Himself told him that it was okay to ‘say it over.’

“The medieval Rabbi Moshe of Coucy actually enumerates this admonition for utter confidentiality as one of the prohibitions comprising the 613 commandments of the Torah…”

R’ Dr. Weinreb concludes, “It is difficult to combat the value system that is foisted upon us by technology that pervades the world in which we now live.  Very difficult, but very necessary.  If we lazily submit to the pernicious influence of modern convenience, we risk the ultimate loss of our very humanity.  A culture devoid of courtesy can turn into a culture of callousness and cruelty.  A world where one cannot trust his confidante is a world where authentic friendship is impossible” (The Person in the Parasha, Maggid OU Press, p.273-275).

As always, the eternality of Torah resonates strongly with us in our daily lives.  From two seemingly non-impactful pasukim, Chazal derive strong lessons for our inter-personal relationships: Respect the privacy of others by ‘knocking’ before we enter or approach, and being vigilant not to share, forward, or reveal secrets of others that have been entrusted to us. 

While this lesson is always important to keep in mind, during the current crisis it is ever more relevant.  Many of us today are at home – for days on end (and who knows when this will end!? Hashem yerachem) with other family members, whom we are not used to spending all day, every day with.  Though we find ourselves in an extreme situation, where all of us are homebound may find it difficult to respect the space and privacy of others, we must remain vigilant to knock on doors, announce our presence before entering a room, and give our family members the space, solitude and privacy they may need.

In addition, in a time when we are being bombarded with What’sApp, Emails, Text, News Updates, Breaking News, and Government Statements – as well as personal messages from friends and family who are often in distress – before we hit ‘Forward’, let us stop and think if the whole world really needs to see the post I’m about to send on, entrusted to me in privacy by someone else.

May Hashem hear us all calling to Him, ויקרא, from the pain in our hearts and distress in our minds, and may He answer our tefilos with yeshuos, refuos, and besuros tovos for our people, our Land, and the world.

בברכת חודש טוב ושבת שלום,

Michal

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