Perhaps you are familiar with this question: “If a tree fell in the forest and no one heard it, did it make a sound?”
Or, in today’s terms: “If two girls went to the mall but didn’t take a selfie, did they really go? ״ In other words, did something that was never publicized nor seen on social media actually happen?
Nowadays it seems that everything we do — and everything other people do —must be revealed. But it was not always like this.
As recorded in this week’s Torah portion of Balak, Bilam looks out at the tents of the children of Israel and blesses: “How goodly are your tents, Yaakov, your dwelling places, Yisrael.” To which Rashi comments: “For he saw that the entrances were not facing each other.”
In other words, the entrances were situated in such a way that no one could peek into anyone else’s tent.
Bilam was part of a culture without personal boundaries, and suddenly he encounters respect for privacy. His blessing has accompanied the nation of Israel for thousands of years. What we read this week about the blessing of privacy; we might want to take to heart. Instead of clicking “publish” or “share” with every post, we might want to stop and click “don’t share, ״ to keep some things to ourselves. Some of our experiences, impressions, and feelings should be ours alone.
The Turtle With A Secret In Dubai
Last week, I took part in a meeting of female diplomats and journalists from The United States, Germany, Romania, and the UAE.
At the close of the meeting, I stayed behind with the hostess, Israeli general consul in Dubai, Liron Zaslansky. And then her husband Ohad Horsandi came in and pointed to a paper turtle and asked me: “Do you see this turtle?”
I looked at the turtle and Ohad explained: “We were here for more than a decade in secret. It was forbidden for us to speak about Israeli representation in this part of the world or the warm diplomatic relations that were developing here under the radar. Not even friends or family knew what we were doing.
“Until three years ago, we were not permitted to display objects of Israeli culture and it was prohibited to put a mezuzah on our door. You never knew which foreign housekeeper might come to our door and see a mezuzah there.
“A good friend of ours makes artistic papier mache objects. She made a turtle for us in which a mezuzah scroll was hidden. This was our secret mezuzah.”
“I asked if I could take a picture of them with the turtle. The mezuzah scroll was still there, they told me. It was a souvenir from those day before the peace agreements. When I left, I looked at their door and noticed a highly visible silver mezuzah.”
“Behold a people that rises like a lioness and raises itself like a lion.” “How goodly are thy tents Yaakov.” All the beautiful blessings from this week’s Torah portion, parashat Balak, are coming true.
Summer Vacation: The Ultimate Personality Test
We are accustomed to hearing the kind of ideas that follow from adults, but yesterday they were sent to me by a teenage girl. Her name is Ivria Naaman and she is a youth group leader from Kibbutz Meirav up north near Beit She’an.
“Imagine a gigantic sign set up at the start of summer vacation that read: ‘Welcome to the ultimate personality test!’ Vacation is the true test of our personalities. For the next two months, we will not have any structured routine imposed on our lives; we alone will determine how we spend our time.
“There will be those who finish summer vacation full of energy and unforgettable experiences. They will have experienced fun, relaxation, and even boredom, yet they will look back at their vacation with satisfaction.
“But there will also be those who will not excel in their personality tests. They will begin summer vacation without any plan or purpose. They will choose to go with the flow instead of to grow, and suddenly will find themselves doing things that they never thought they would do. They will live for two months without any boundaries or appreciation for the value of time. In my opinion, they will finish their vacation much less satisfied than those who had a plan and purpose.
“So how will you emerge triumphant from summer vacation? How will you give it meaningful direction instead of allowing it to arbitrarily direct you?
“1. Plan ahead with a daily structure.
“2. Set boundaries. What will you refuse to do?
“3. Don’t give up on yourselves and apply yourself completely in what you do.
“4. Establish goals to reach and have dreams that you fulfill.”
Thank you Ivria. Rabbi Yaakov Edelstein was accustomed to say at the start of summer vacation that the real school year starts now. When there are no exams or school bells, a person expresses his inner self and experiences life as it truly is.
So, for the 2.5 million students beginning summer vacation – good luck on the ultimate personality test.
Translation by Yehoshua Siskin.