Sunday, November 28th 2021   |



“Castrametation: the art or science of laying out a camp” (Oxford English Dictionary). The term is most commonly associated with (e.g., Roman) military installations. This “art” form is also aptly applied to the Israelite tribes of the Wilderness Period.

When the mercenary prophet Balaam, hired to curse the tribes of Israel, observed their camp, he declared “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel” (Numbers 24:2). Baba Batra 60A explains that Balaam saw that the Israelites’ tents were set up so that their doorways did not face each other, thus safeguarding neighbors’ mutual privacy. “This people is worthy to have the Divine Presence dwell among them,” Balaam is said to have concluded.

The Sages established on this precedent an important area of Jewish Law. The principle of Hezek Re’iyah teaches that we inflict harmful damage on our neighbors merely by seeing that which is private… that which is not intended for our eyes. We may be compelled to take measures to prevent such invasive viewing (Shulchan Aruch HM 154:3).

The voyeuristic allure of some social media is rife with opportunities for Hezek Re’iyah. We protect both our neighbors and ourselves from harm by willingly limiting our view.

In the computer age, the Divine still resides in the artful application of castrametation.

(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the former National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting. This is his 200th submission for his “Say Little, Do Much” weekly column to which we say “Mazel tov!”)

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