By Rabbi Mordechai Lipskier,
Director of The Beis Medrash in Crown Heights
A friend mentioned to me that his child’s camp posts pictures on Instagram and allows parents to comment on them. He, however, feels uncomfortable with it. “As a frum Jew, having the men and women comment together feels wrong; it feels like an inappropriate social event.”
Is he too sensitive, or does he have a point?
In this week’s parsha, Bilam praises the Jews for their modesty—”How good are your tents Jacob, your dwellings Israel”. He was impressed that the Jewish nation pitched their tents in a way that the doors faced away from each other, so they couldn’t see into their neighbors’ homes.
According to the medrash, the doors Bilam referred to are actually the doors of shuls and batei medrash. He prophesied that these doors would never close, i.e., Jews would always have places to daven and learn.
The Frierdiker Rebbe harmonizes the two explanations, giving profound and relevant depth to Bilam’s words.
It’s easy to find fault with our fellow Jew, but when it comes to ourselves, we’re quick to overlook our shortcomings and focus on our strong points. In truth, it should be the other way around. We know ourselves well, and we should be critical of our shortcomings. When it comes to judging a fellow Jew, we never know the full picture and should try to see only the good.
How can we change our mindset and begin to think this way?
Most of us behave differently at shul and at home. In shul, there’s an atmosphere of kedusha, davening and learning, and it’s quite natural to get swept along with the fervor. At home, on the other hand, the atmosphere is usually more private and relaxed – physically and spiritually – requiring much more internal motivation to be on our best behavior.
Bilam’s message, “Let the doors of your homes face away from each other,” is a timeless reminder.
1) Preserve the privacy and sanctity of your life, and 2) Don’t judge your friend in his home—don’t even peek through the window in case you see something unimpressive. Instead, notice him in shul. See that he davens with a minyan three times a day and admire his dedication to the daily shiur. This is who he really is.
By seeing our fellow Jews in this light, we’ll be able to help them reach the ultimate goal of become strong and dedicated at home too.
Ironically, in 2014 the internet wants us to give up what Bilam considered our most unique quality. As we post pictures on Facebook and other social media, all it takes is the click of a button before we find ourselves in someone else’s home.
Some people are quick to share pictures on Facebook that they would not even hang on their dining room wall because of the intimacy shown! What goes on at home should stay at home. Let’s not open ourselves up for judgment by advertising the parts of our lives that should stay private and sacred.
Instead, let’s preserve our privacy and sanctity. And, let’s make the time we spend at shul, a shiur, a farbrengen or in the beis medrash—i.e., when we are engaging in our best behavior—a time for people to notice and “judge” us. And with time, it will trickle back into our home behavior.
So we can probably assume that Bilam would not approve of the summer camp’s posts on Instagram…
May we be encouraged by this week’s parsha to preserve the sanctity and privacy of our homes, so Bilam’s blessing can be fulfilled in the fullest sense.
Rabbi Mordechai Lipskier and his wife direct The Beis Medrash and The Beis Medrash Woman’s Circle in Crown Heights. To reach him or to receive his weekly Dvar Torah emails, email: [email protected]