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A Private Affair

May 9, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

The boundaries between public and private, family and community, have all become blurred, to our detriment.

It's the influence of Oprah. And Sally Jesse Raphael. And Jerry Springer. No matter what event happens in our lives, public or private or with elements of each, we are expected to talk about it and write about it and describe our most intimate experiences in graphic detail.

It's hard to buck the trend. If you try to maintain any sense of privacy, you are accused of being cold and unfriendly. And it goes beyond that. Sometimes the emotions you feel aren't what your listeners or viewers or readers want. If it's an engagement, you are only allowed to feel joy. If it's a funeral, God forbid, only sorrow.

But life's most profound experiences are also its most complex. And, dare I say it, its most private.

We have become a nation of exhibitionists and voyeurs. The boundaries between public and private, family and community and external society have all become blurred. To our detriment. Emotion has become cheap and easy and tawdry; people's pain and sorrow daytime TV, entertainment.

In Ethics of our Fathers, we are taught to build a fence around the Torah. There are many explanations for this advice but there is one that is particularly applicable here.

If something is very precious to us, we want to keep it guarded, under lock and key. We keep our jewels and money in safes, our mansions behind electric gates. A fence says that entrance is restricted, that what's inside is too valuable to cavalierly share with the world.

From behind the closed gates we nurture ourselves and each other and then go out to give to and interact with the world. Behind the fence we recover our center.

In a world where all is bared (both literally and figuratively), the center gets lost.

Recently one of my daughters got engaged and then married (the logical progression!). Many friends and family shared our joy with us. We couldn't be more grateful for their caring and support and unconditional participation in our joy.

But if I'm asked to describe the experiences -- the complexity of emotions and thoughts of parents and children, of grandparents and siblings, I can't. They're behind the fence, locked away. They're our private struggles and our private triumphs. They stay behind the fence where they can continue to uphold our dignity and give strength to us, and, please God, to future generations.


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