Sunday, May 29, 2011

Wikileaks Meets Torah's Ways

This article appeared on, December 10th 2010.

On November 28th, 2010, WikiLeaks, an organization that exposes otherwise inaccessible material, began releasing on the internet what they called the largest-ever disclosure of confidential information.  These stolen American diplomatic cables reveal information vital to American interests and blunt assessments of foreign leaders.  Analysts fear they may compromise US security and sow international hatred of America.  At the heart of this incident is the role of privacy in our lives.  

A day before the cables went public, on Shabbat, the Torah reading in the synagogue was parshat Vayeshev, which tells the story of Joseph and his brothers.  Joseph spoke badly about them to their father and revealed his dreams of domination; both, the commentators explain, sowed hatred of him and would have been better kept private. 

Additionally, the same week the cables were posted online, we celebrated Chanukah.  The holiday commemorates the rededication by the Maccabees of the Temple, recaptured from the Greeks in the 2nd century BCE.  In one attempt to Hellenize the Jews, the Greeks constructed gymnasiums in Jerusalem, where unclothed men engaged in sports.  The Greeks exposed the sacred, treating the human body as a beautiful animal to be publicly displayed.  This drive, to reveal what needs to be private, continues to this day.

The more divine something is, the more its essence is hidden.  To illustrate, by examining the outside of a stone, the lowest level creation, you have a good idea what is inside.  An animal, a creation with a living spirit, is on a higher level; the internal components are hidden.  Yet, animals live by instincts and act in predictable ways.  A human being, the creation closest to the Divine, is even more opaque.  By looking at people, you have no idea what they are thinking, nor can you predict their behaviors.  On the highest level and almost totally concealed from our understanding is the Divine Himself.  Out of His love for us, He uncovers a fraction of His glory, the Torah, which we delve into over the course of a lifetime. 

Our private nature is a badge of honor; a sign of godliness.  In contrast, animals live naked and show little modesty.  When we publicize the private, we downgrade our divinity and bring ourselves closer to the animal kingdom, as the Greeks did.  This causes G-d tremendous pain.  He went through the process of creating a world, populating it with animals and vegetation, all for our benefit; so that we could actualize our divine potential and come close to Him.  Sadly, sometimes people act as if they said to G-d, “Thanks, but no thanks.  I don’t want to be like You, I want to be like him,” pointing to their dog – who lives a totally materialistic life.

The Talmud (Sotah 49b) states that the generation preceding the Messiah will have the face of a dog.  One explanation given is that the generation will be shameless – like a dog.  With the advent of the internet, where some people share the most personal lurid details with thousands of strangers, indecency has reached epidemic levels.

Revealing parts of our lives with others can deepen relationships; the question is to what extent and with whom?  Some conversations are only appropriate with close friends; some modes of dress, only in one’s home; some behaviors, only in private with one’s spouse. 

Our culture glorifies exposure, whether in tell-all memoirs or reality shows. It is very easy to be influenced by this total disregard for modesty.  Despair not, G-d loves us too much to let us be lulled to sleep at the wheel and lose sight of our goal in life.  He therefore sends wake up calls, reminding us that we are His children; to act godly and reclaim our mantle of holiness (Deuteronomy 14:1; Leviticus 19:2). 

In my article on this website, “Spiritual Oil Spills, Flotillas,” I discussed one such awakening.  The WikiLeaks saga is another; stolen classified cables brazenly made public on an unprecedented level to millions of viewers worldwide.  Our shock at US Government secrets laid bare for all to see, reminds us that as godly creations, our need for privacy/modesty is woven into the very fiber of our being.  With the proximity of the cables’ release to Chanukah, perhaps G-d is highlighting the connection between WikiLeaks and the ancient Greeks; alerting us to follow the example of the Maccabees and repel any attempt of society to rob us of our holiness and closeness to G-d.

In addition to our divine nature, there is another reason for modesty – G-d’s indescribable majesty.  To the extent that we recognize our Creator’s exaltedness, to that extent we will live modestly.  Orthodox Jewish males wear a kippah, not leaving their heads exposed, as a reminder that we are always before the King of kings.  When we live with purity, we declare, "I have set G-d before me always...(Psalms 16:8)"

The prophet Micah (6:8) urges us, "...walk modestly with your G-d."  If we don’t want to be alone, if we want to walk with G-d, then we must live modestly – acknowledging His constant presence.  Current events make clear how lost we are without Divine direction.  Those who refuse to follow the herd and open their eyes to G-d’s messages, will see the wisdom of following His Torah.  When we awaken to our need for G-d, we will be filled with an intense longing for our Father and His redeemer, who will teach the world to live as our Creator intended. 

We all have weak links; fertile ground for spiritual growth.  Ask yourself, “In which area of my life, am I acting in a manner unbecoming of G-d’s child?  When do I act as if G-d is not watching?  What is the first step to bringing more modesty and holiness into my life, bridging the gap between me and G-d?”  Know, that your Father yearns to bring you close to Him; to raise up your soul into His embrace.  How long must He wait?

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