Close the Door| February 7, 2018
It’s not hemlines, necklines, or tightness — it’s privacy
t all started with a door.
Our front door featured a beautiful, large, and intricately designed oblong window. The bright morning sunlight would stream through it clearly each morning. Just as clearly, anyone standing at our door had an unobstructed view of the inside of our house.
More pressing needs superseded this one, and it took a back seat to other issues. At some point this year, though, I decided to solve this problem. Finally, a layer of film rendered our glass penetrable by the sunlight but not by probing eyes. Oh, the joy of privacy!
“Mah tovu ohalecha Yaakov mishkenosecha Yisrael” (Bamidbar 24:5).
I remember happily coloring in my parshah sheet with the recalcitrant Bilaam looking down at the camp of Israel, each tent’s entrance facing away from its neighbors. How proud I felt to be a part of Klal Yisrael.
Rashi quotes the Gemara in Bava Basra 70a: “This is what brings the Shechinah to Klal Yisrael. ‘One window should not face the other,’ says Rav Yochanan.” Rashi cites a reason that is both simple and profound: “Because of tzniyus.”
Here is a new definition of tzniyus; it’s not hemlines, necklines, or tightness — it’s privacy.
Hiding the Blessing
The Kli Yakar writes, “When the Jew finds himself in galus and encounters success and wealth, he should conceal and hide it all from Eisav, as they are the nation most jealous of us. They already claim that we stole their brachah when our father Yaakov took their father’s blessings.
“This is the exact opposite of what Jews are doing in this galus: Those who have thousands dress themselves and live in homes as if they have millions…. This is the cause of great suffering for us, as we are living in the fashion opposite from what was intended.”
The Kli Yakar wrote these words approximately 400 years ago. Has anything changed? The goodly tents Bilaam admired have evolved into astonishing showcases of Jewish wealth. Can we not also take caution from the ancient words of Rabi Yitzchak (Bava Metzia 42b), who instructed us, “Brachah will rest only in a place that is hidden from the eyes”?
In Devarim (2:3), Moshe Rabbeinu relates that Hashem told him, “You have surrounded this mountain for long enough; turn to the north, tzefonah.” The word “tzafon,” north, can also be read as “tzafun,” hidden. When we turn toward the tzafun, we do more than mitigate the animosity of the nations surrounding us; we also bolster the respect and ayin tovah one Jew has for another.
The Maharsha explains that we keep brachah hidden to ward off the ayin hara of jealous eyes. Toras Chaim takes it one step deeper, reminding us of the manner in which Elisha revived the son of the Ishah Hashunamis (II Melachim 2). Before he approached her dead child, Elisha cautioned the woman to close the door of the room in which he was about to perform a miracle.
Brachah rests in hidden places because it does not befit a neis to come into the world brazen and exposed. The modesty of the place where things are kept private enables brachah to flow.
We should marvel over the beauty of every detail of our lives, be it our health, the successes of our children, the magic in our marriage, or financial prosperity. All of these should cause us to appreciate the immense brachah that Hashem showers upon us daily.
But brachah is the antithesis of exposure. It finds its place in the intricacies of our lives. It dwindles when the minutiae of our lives are exposed. It diminishes when our blessings are all instantly “shared” via WhatsApp, Instagram, and e-mail.
Social media sites see hundreds of millions of users each month and share millions of photos a day. Does this affect our kehillah? Most certainly. The moment of engagement is no longer a private experience the chassan and kallah cherish. The prohibitive middah of jealousy is so often spurred by the immediate sharing of every delicacy tasted, every new dress purchased, and each sweet antic performed by every child.
A Jew’s Holiness
What is hidden is also what is sanctified. The word “kadosh” imparts a message of exclusivity. A wife becomes mekudeshes to her husband. The items dedicated to the use in the Mikdash alone are hekdesh. The Kodesh Hakodoshim, the Holy of Holies, was a room entered by only one man — the Kohein Gadol — on only one day of the year.
Let’s return to the story of Bilaam. Balak led Bilaam up Mount Pe’or to give him an understanding of the antithesis of kedushah. People served the idol Pe’or by exposing themselves in front of it, bringing it gifts of human waste. Its worship showcased the animalistic side of man — the human body and its physical callings — that Torah directs us to control and harness. Rav Hirsch explained that Balak challenged Bilaam, “Who are these people? What is their modesty? Can there really be holiness in intimate places?”
Bilaam looked down and saw families camped in tribal groupings, doors facing away from one another. He proclaimed “Mah tovu — how good,” and not “Mah yafeh — how beautiful.” Tov is a much deeper assessment. This is not merely something to admire and say, “How beautiful!” Tov is something to emulate. Rav Hirsch explains the secret of the tov of the tents of Yaakov that so moved Bilaam: The sanctity of the Jew’s family life, the privacy of each home’s personal space. Mishkenos Yisrael were immune to the vulgarity of Pe’or.
Rav Elya Lopian (Lev Eliyahu, Parshas Balak) explains that what Bilaam saw transformed him: “He began to tremble… and he then began to rise in his measure of ability to prophesize.” It was in that state that Bilaam proclaimed his now-famous words that we recite each morning: Mah tovu ohalecha Yaakov.
Even in 2018, this middah of tzniyus continues to distinguish our community. The innate kedushah of a Jewish marriage and the mitzvos surrounding it are still kept private. Yet the message of Pe’or is still rampant. Unfortunately, even within our community, the most intimate details of life are obscenely bandied about online, in chats and tweets. How long can we endure this onslaught upon our ideals?
Keeping the Inside In
We also must find within ourselves the ability to withstand the temptation to share the seemingly less intimate details of our lives. Anything special to us should be treasured. Anything we treasure must be kept safe and secure. Our mezuzah stands guard at our doorposts reminding us that what is outside should stay outside and what is inside should remain within.
Every year at this time we receive calls trying to entice us to join some fabulous Pesach program in a magical location. Each year, my husband explains that his wife refuses to go. I share my husband with the world from the moment we walk out the door. I often joke about how I think I’m walking home from shul with him, then suddenly find that he is walking with someone else! It is hard to hide from our mispallelim who want to share a vort with their rav, tell him about their lives, or share advice. My door has become even more precious to me; part of the beauty of being home is my ability to close my door. I certainly wouldn’t want to give that up for an entire Yom Tov!
How goodly is your tent? Is the Shechinah resting in your home?
We are the children of Yaakov — we are Yisrael!
Shh… Let’s keep quiet what should be quiet. Let’s focus on all the brachah in our lives. Let’s kiss that mezuzah and close the door!
Originally featured in Family First, Issue 579. Rebbetzin Aviva Feiner is the rebbetzin of Congregation Kneseth Israel (The White Shul), and menaheles of Machon Basya Rachel Seminary, both in Far Rockaway, New York. If you have any comments or questions on this column, please contact email@example.com
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