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Parashat Balak (Numbers 22:2:5:9)

“He perceived no iniquity in Jacob and saw no perversity in Israel.
The Lord his God is with him and the friendship of the King is in him.” (Numbers 23:21)

Privacy is much in the news these days. The digital behemoths’ financial models are based on their ability to track your digital footprint and sell that information. Since swearing off digital connections imposes a serious obstacle to modern living, most people resign themselves to trading privacy for convenience. The question remains, however: is privacy a right or a privilege? Parashat Balak provides a compelling perspective.

Balak, king of Moab, fears the approaching Israelites and hires Bilaam, the local seer, to curse them. Of course, it all backfires because the one constant message in the Torah is God’s unique power to influence history. Bilaam ends up blessing the Israelites with the famous words, “Ma tovu ohalecha Ya-akov…, How goodly are your tents, Jacob…” (Num. 24:5) But what, exactly, is the good Bilaam sees?

Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the pre-eminent 11th century Jewish commentator) explains it is the way the Israelites organize the camp: the entrances of the tents did not face one another, thereby guaranteeing each family its privacy. The Israelites demonstrate their sense of cohesion and responsibility to one another by camping according to tribe; they are comfortable doing so because the tribe respects and protects the individuality of each family.

Parashat Balak reminds us the tension between the demands of the community and the needs of the individual is no different in 2019 than in the Torah. Individual privacy is a foundation of communal wellbeing because the strength of the community derives from the individuality of its members. No one should have to sacrifice it for the other.

Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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