Wiki Leaks and G-d Peeks
“The Lives of Others” (Das Leben des Anders) is a film about the former East German state security police; the Stassi, which relentlessly spied on its citizens, including the characters in the film, who learn to live in a world where there is always someone watching.
Thinking of my own religious upbringing and recent advice I have given to my children about monitoring their behavior even when seemingly alone, I remarked to the dean of Yale’s law school who attended the screening that indeed, even in a free society, someone always is watching. Thankfully, Hashem, who does see all, is not an officer in the manipulative and vindictive Stassi, and is in fact a god of love and mercy. “Now rabbi,” Dean Post remarked “you are starting with the Jewish guilt.”
In fact, Dean Post’s admirable quip aside, it is not so much about guilt as accountability. In the words from the second chapter of Pirkei Avot; (The Ethics of our Fathers), written close to two thousand years ago, we must always be conscious of “an eye that sees,” and “an ear that hears.” Most of all, we should never forget that “everything is written down.” Living a life guided by these precepts will help ensure we resist supposedly harmless temptations or those which we might be able to “get away with.”
What served as a metaphor at the time of Pirkei Avot is now a literal fact: We live in a world where everywhere we go there are cameras that see, microphones that hear and everything we do online and in public (where we spend much of our time) is indeed recorded. Whatever one’s feeling about the politics behind the Wiki-leaks movement, it must be acknowledged that all human events, especially in world politics, have just become infinitely more transparent. Individuals, communities and now even nations can no longer operate in the style of Yassir Arafat who would preach peace in English to an international audience and vow bloodshed in Arabic at home. And while Kim Jong Il can still imprison his own people, he cannot do so without it being recorded, without the world hearing and seeing and, most importantly, without many of his own people learning from their smuggled cell-phones that he is a petty despot locking them in and not a great hero protecting them from the rest of the world.
The right of privacy remains important for individuals, couples, families and communities and even government spying organizations like the Stassi, though they served the interests of repression. Yet, remembering the God above who does see us and holds out every action to high standards in fact puts us on the path to the true freedom of full humanity.
There is an old Yiddish expression; “Mensch tracht un got lacht,” meaning while we might plan our lives, G-d lovingly chuckles, having plans for us of his own. Perhaps in the world we live in now it is worthwhile for every individual and especially every world leader, whether believer or atheist, to remember that “Wiki Leaks and God Peeks.”Shmully Hecht is co-founder of Eliezer, the Jewish Society at Yale.