Par­shas Ki Tavo - “Walls Have Ears?”

The Jewish Voice - - JEWISH FEATURES -

We all have our se­cret lives. I don't mean to say that each of us has a sin­is­ter side, which we wickedly act out in some deep, dark, pri­vate world. What I do mean is that we all act dif­fer­ently when we are alone, or with a few close in­ti­mates, than we act when we are out in pub­lic, among oth­ers. There is no one who is so be­hav­iorally con­sis­tent that he is the same per­son in the pri­vacy of his own home as he is in the work­place or mar­ket­place. Nor do I sug­gest that there is any­thing wrong with the fact that we each are two per­sons, and per­haps even mul­ti­ple per­sons, de­pend­ing upon the so­cial con­text in which we find our­selves. It is prob­lem­atic, how­ever, when we act hyp­o­crit­i­cally, pre­sent­ing a pi­ous and al­tru­is­tic face to the world, while act­ing cru­elly and crudely in our own homes and with our fam­i­lies. In this week's To­rah por­tion, Par­shat Ki Tavo, there ap­pears a par­tic­u­larly pierc­ing and per­cep­tive verse: "Cursed be he who strikes his fel­low in se­cret—and all the peo­ple shall say, Amen." In no way does the To­rah im­ply that he who strikes his fel­low in pub­lic is to be blessed. Rather, the To­rah rec­og­nizes the ten­dency hu­mans have to re­serve the worst side of them­selves for their se­cret so­cial set­tings, even when they be­have mer­i­to­ri­ously in their pub­lic so­cial worlds. It is the façade, the con­trast, be­tween pub­lic demon­stra­tions of right­eous­ness and pri­vate acts of fiendish­ness that is cursed. Sin­ning in se­cret is par­tic­u­larly of­fen­sive in the re­li­gious per­son­al­ity. He or she who be­lieves in a God who is om­ni­scient, and who yet sins in pri­vate, is guilty, not merely of hypocrisy, but of heresy. If God knows all, how can you de­lude your­self into think­ing that your se­cret mis­deeds can go un­de­tected? The Shulchan Aruch, the Jewish code of law, opens with a state­ment rec­og­niz­ing that a per­son's be­hav­ior, when he is alone at home, is very dif­fer­ent from his be­hav­ior when he ap­pears be­fore a great king. And it urges the re­li­gious per­son to be aware that he is al­ways in the pres­ence of the great King of Kings, the all-know­ing God. But it is not only from a spir­i­tual per­spec­tive that it is wrong to act de­mean­ingly in pri­vate. There is a prac­ti­cal as­pect as well to the im­por­tance of be­hav­ing prop­erly even in se­cret. There al­ways is the very real pos­si­bil­ity that our se­crets will be "leaked" and that things we were sure would never be known will be­come em­bar­rass­ingly ex­posed. I know of no place where this is con­veyed more co­gently than in these words of cau­tion, to be found in Ec­cle­si­astes (10:20): Don't re­vile a king, even in your in­ti­mate thoughts. Don't re­vile a rich man, even in your bed­cham­ber; For a bird of the air may carry the ut­ter­ance, And a winged crea­ture may re­port the word. In­deed, as our Sages say (Ber­a­chot 8b), the walls have ears. The pas­sage in this week's To­rah por­tion that con­demns se­cret vi­o­lence also gives quite a com­pre­hen­sive cat­a­log of other sins which tend to be per­formed be­hind closed doors. They in­clude elder abuse, crim­i­nal busi­ness prac­tices, de­ceiv­ing blind per­sons, sub­vert­ing the rights of the help­less, in­cest and bes­tial­ity, and the ac­cep­tance of bribery. Quite a list, and one that has cer­tainly not lost its rel­e­vance over the cen­turies. I am not so naïve as to think that we are re­quired to act in an ab­so­lutely iden­ti­cal fash­ion in our "se­cret cham­bers" as we do out in the “real world." To a cer­tain ex­tent, it is nec­es­sary and right that we main­tain a façade of sorts when we in­ter­act in pub­lic. We all have, and need, our masks and per­sonas. But many times, we go too far and in­deed split our per­son­al­i­ties be­tween the Dr. Jekylls of our ex­ter­nal vis­i­ble be­hav­ior and the Mr. Hy­des of our in­ner sancta. How well ad­vised we would be to set as an ob­jec­tive for our­selves the words of the Daily Prayer Book: "A per­son should al­ways be God-fear­ing, pri­vately and pub­licly, ac­knowl­edg­ing the truth and speak­ing it in his heart."

The To­rah rec­og­nizes the ten­dency hu­mans have to re­serve the worst side of them­selves for their se­cret so­cial set­tings, even when they be­have mer­i­to­ri­ously in their pub­lic so­cial worlds

But many times, we go too far and in­deed split our per­son­al­i­ties be­tween the Dr. Jekylls of our ex­ter­nal vis­i­ble be­hav­ior and the Mr. Hy­des of our in­ner sancta

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