A ‘Your Mother’s Guidance’ post by Rebecca Masinter
Numbers 24 contains the blessings that the prophet Bilam said to the Jewish nation when he was hired by King Balak for the opposite purpose. Perhaps the most famous line of all of his prophecies is one that Jews say as part of each morning’s prayers, “Mah tovu ohalecha Yaakov mishkenosecha Yisrael.” “How good are your tents, Jacob; your dwelling places, Israel.”
Rashi, one of the great transmitters of ancient Jewish wisdom, explains that the goodness of the Jewish people’s tents is that they were arranged so that the doorways of the tents were not facing each other. No family could look through their tent entrance and see into another family’s home. Even though a camp of over a million people may seem to be a place where privacy is lost, the Jewish camp was deliberately structured to create and protect privacy.
There is so much I want to say on this and so much for each of us to think about! For today, I’d like to focus on the value of creating and protecting privacy for each family. We live in an age where on all levels, privacy is being lost. Basic assumptions that we used to have of what was protected and private information are overturned as so much information is now public and easily accessible. Since the culture is so overwhelmingly one that does not protect privacy, I believe we, as mothers, need to be proactive in teaching our children the Biblical value of privacy, and not just assume they will pick it up or understand it on its own.
For example, I live on a block with many wonderful families and many, many precious children. Fairly frequently an emergency vehicle is called to our block. The innocent natural inclination of children is to stand around in groups watching. What child isn’t fascinated by fire engines and ambulances? In order to teach my children privacy I make a point of calling my children inside when an emergency vehicle is outside and we close our window blinds. They know that at that moment we aren’t able to help the family that called for assistance, but we can give them the dignity of privacy. We can proactively choose to not look. I feel strongly that this is important for me to teach my children.
Similarly, when I get off the phone there is often at least one child who asks, “Who was that?” You would think they would learn by now that I don’t answer that question! I say, “It was someone calling to talk to me, not you, so I’m not going to give out their name.” I’m not trying to hoard information or act as if I’m not being open with them, rather I am teaching that privacy is important and if there isn’t a need to share someone else’s information, I won’t do so.
I believe that the message my children also receive is that just as I’m protecting other people’s privacy, so too I will do that for them as well. I hope it’s understood that I won’t read their diaries, listen in on their calls, or enter their rooms without knocking. Privacy is important! (Just so you know, as far as computers in my home we stress that nothing that happens on a computer is private. Anybody can access it even if you think it is secure, and we do monitor our children’s computer usage, openly telling them that we are doing so.)
As always, and I haven’t said this in a long time so new readers may not know how I feel: I can only share with you what works for me and my family, I don’t believe that I or anyone else can tell you what you should do with your family. God gave each of us the wisdom and insight to know what is best for our families and please don’t take anything I share as anything more than what works for me. As always, my hope is that you will listen with an open mind and then apply these thoughts in a unique way for your family. Privacy is an important Jewish value, and I believe we can all think about how we teach it and model it in our homes, but your ways may be different from mine and that’s terrific!