We live in a very public world. This is in large part thanks to the proliferation of blogs and media outlets as well as our own ability to share news, personal thoughts and updates instantly whenever our hearts desire. While much of this information is of the same basic variety as news that was commonplace in the days of Web 1.0 or earlier, many of the stories and details available online today clearly reflect an increased encroachment of personal space.
As someone who uses the internet extensively for professional purposes, I am amazed at what a person can access, even unwittingly. It has become increasingly more difficult to visit even a credible news site without being bombarded with links to all sorts of non-newsworthy, unsavory content.
The problem is even more profound with social media. I am continually amazed at the information that some people are willing (if not excited) to share. These personal details are posted for all kinds of “friends” to see.
All of this leads me to a simple conclusion: privacy is no longer a value for many people. To borrow a term from the academic world, it has become “share or perish.”
While the Torah certainly recognizes the need to share certain information publicly and often uses narrative to convey teachings and behavioral standards, it also promotes the value of keeping matters private, to be shared only with certain people and at the proper time.
At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion we are told that Jacob kept his thoughts private, quietly maintaining a different view of Joseph’s dreams than the rest of the family.
So his brothers envied him, but his father awaited the matter. (Genesis 37:11) He was waiting and looking forward in expectation of when it (the fulfillment) would come. (Rashi, Ibid)
Jacob understood Joseph’s dreams for what they were, prophesies of a time in which Rachel’s firstborn would assume the mantle of familial and national leadership. However, he recognized that the images spoke of a future date and time, and that it would take a while before this prediction would manifest. And so he waited, eager to see how God would orchestrate matters towards the desired outcome.
His father Isaac was also forced to keep information to himself, despite what was surely an intense desire to share. After the brothers had sold Joseph, they dipped his multicolored robe into blood, so as to indicate that their brother had been attacked and devoured. Of course, Jacob was devastated by the “news” that accompanied the image of a bloodied cloak, and could not be comforted, for years on end. All the while, Isaac knew the truth, but felt compelled to withhold it from his son, despite his abundant suffering.
He recognized it, and he said, “(It is) my son’s coat; a wild beast has devoured him; Joseph has surely been torn up.” (Ibid, 33) Now why did the Holy One, blessed be He, not reveal it (the truth) to him? Because (the brothers) excommunicated and cursed anyone who would reveal (it), and they included the Holy One, blessed be He, with them. Isaac, however, knew that he was alive (but) said, “How can I reveal it if the Holy One, blessed be He, does not wish to reveal it to him?” (Rashi, Ibid, from Tanchuma)
Abraham too kept certain information from loved ones. For example, he did not notify his wife Sarah of God’s commands that Abraham take Isaac and offer him as an olah. When she did later find out, the impact was devastating.
The account of Sarah’s demise was juxtaposed to the binding of Isaac because as a result of the news of the “binding,” that her son was prepared for slaughter and was almost slaughtered, her soul flew out of her, and she died. (Rashi to Genesis 23:2 quoting Genesis Rabbah 58:5)
Each patriarch understood the importance of keeping their thoughts and information private, and resisted their own temptations to share, until such time when God gave them the opportunity to reveal their inner feelings and knowledge. While we are not bound by similar restrictions, we should give continued thought to the value and beauty of privacy, the information that we choose to share and the methods by which we share it.