Torah and Confidentiality
A lesson from the Parsha
Anyone who visits a doctor knows that there’s something called confidentiality. This means that the doctor has a duty not to share his patient’s medical information with anyone else (except other doctors as necessary). This confidentiality is even part of the physician’s oath.
Many doctors today take the Hippocratic Oath. Many Jewish doctors, especially religious ones, prefer the Oath of Maimonides. However, there is a physician’s oath written by a Jew of ancient times called Assaf the Healer. Included in Assaf’s oath is one of the axioms a doctor is sworn to uphold: “Do not reveal the secret of the man who believes in you.”
We also expect the same ethics from attorneys, financial advisors, and so on.
In Judaism, we find the same thing. The Talmud tells us that a Jewish court is composed of three judges, and the ruling follows the majority opinion. This is unlike most American courts where one judge presides and makes decisions. In Judaism, cases are generally not given to a solitary judge to decide in the first place, because only G-d can be a solitary judge.
In many cases, the so-called “statute of limitations” expires after seven years. But in Judaism, if something is confidential it may never be revealed.
In this week’s Torah portion of Beha’aloscha, we find an even higher level. The Torah tells us that Aharon and Miriam spoke negatively about Moshe, and suddenly G-d mixed into the conversation.
First of all, God praised Moshe: “He is trustworthy throughout My House.” The Rebbe explains: What does “trustworthy,” mean? It means that he didn’t reveal confidential matters; he didn’t relay everything he knew. G-d could depend upon Moshe not to reveal secrets.
For example, a prophet knows who has sinned. But he is also charged with the prohibition of telling secrets, and if he tells secrets, then he breaches the trust that he was entrusted with.
A prophet may know how long a person is destined to live. But he does not approach the person and say, “You know, you have such-and-such an amount of time left to live.” Rather, he reveals no secrets whatsoever—unless G-d explicitly tells him to do so. That’s what “He is trustworthy throughout My House” means.
We find the same thing with our Patriarch Yitzchak. When the brothers sold Yosef into slavery and swore not to tell their father, the Torah tells us that Yaakov sat and mourned for his son for many days. The Torah then states, his father wept for him.
Yitzchok (Yosef’s grandfather) cried for Yaakov’s pain, but he did not mourn [for Yosef] because he knew he was alive. Why did he not tell Yaakov? On a later verse, Rashi explains: “But Yitzchok, who knew he was alive, said: ‘How can I reveal it when G-d doesn’t want to reveal it to him?” We see from this that a prophet who knows something does not reveal it.
An even higher level of protecting information is where the prophet has information but knows he is barred from using it or even making decisions based on it.
There is a famous tale of a man who saw a child walking the street holding a covered pot. He asked the kid, “What’s in the pot?” The child answered. “If my mother wanted you to see what’s in the pot, she wouldn’t have put on the lid.” So too with G-d. If G-d conceals something from us, it’s a sign that it’s good for us.
The same thing applies to another thing people constantly ask: Why did G-d do that?
Why did the Holocaust happen? Why is there pain? The true answer is, “Why are you meddling in G-d’s secrets?” If G-d has not revealed the secret to us, we don’t need to know and it’s better if we don’t know.
We find this concept in this week’s Torah portion. Moshe Rabbeinu complains to G-d, “I cannot bear this entire nation alone!” To which G-d replies, “Gather me 70 men from the elders of Israel and I shall emanate upon them from the spirit which is upon you, and they will bear the burden of the people with you.”
Moshe set out and gathered 70 men—and here the story gets interesting. The verses state: “Two men remained in the camp, Eldad and Meidad, and the spirit rested upon them and they prophesied in the camp. And the lad [Moshe’s son, Gershom] ran and told Moshe, ‘Eldad and Meidad are
prophesizing in the camp!’”
So, Joshua said,
“My lord Moshe! Stop them!”
But Moshe replied, “Are you jealous for me?! If only G-d would give the entire nation prophecy!”
When we read the story, we don’t understand what all the fuss was about: Why did Moshe’s son get angry? And why did Joshua want to stop them?
Rashi explains that they were prophesizing that Moshe would die and that Joshua would introduce the Jews to the Land of Israel. It was only one year after they had left Egypt, and everyone thought that Moshe would lead them to the Land of Israel any minute now—and now along came these two and broke the news. That’s why Gershom and Joshua were angry at them: They had betrayed the trust G-d puts in prophets not to reveal secrets.
Even in the Torah itself, we find the concept that part of the Torah itself is a secret.
Kabbalah is referred to as “the secret teaching.”
In truth, Moshe did not teach the Kabbalah in public. Neither did King David or Ezra the Scribe or even Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai, the author of the Zohar—even he didn’t publicize Kabbalah. This secrecy went to such an extent that the Zohar’s existence was not known to the public until about 900 years ago — meaning, its existence was kept a secret for 1,000 years, so much so that when it was revealed to the public, there was a debate that carried on for years on end whether the Zohar was actually written by Rabbi Shimon or by someone else.
If so, how then is it that today, even celebrities study Kabbalah?
The Masters of Kabbalah saw that the Jewish people were becoming more and more assimilated and felt we were entering the category of Pikuach Nefesh – a threat to the existence of the Jewish people. Therefore the Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, 1534-1572, the father of Kabbalah as we know it) taught that “it is a mitzvah to reveal this wisdom.”
Usually, we’re not allowed to reveal secrets – but when it comes to the Kabbalah – secrets of the Torah, not only are you allowed, but as the Arizal says, it’s a Mitzvah!