Leviticus: Don't Be So Forward!

The Book of Leviticus opens with G-d calling to Moses from the Tent of Meeting, “saying: ‘Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them…’”

The phrasing is odd.  Why the apparently superfluous word “saying” (Leimor)?

Our sages’ answer was that when G-d called to Moses from the Tent of Meeting, the word leimor was a contraction for “lo amar” – “Do not speak.”  That is, G-d was speaking only to Moses, even though the rest of the Children of Israel were with him.  Moses did not have permission to divulge what G-d said unless and until G-d added the express command, “Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them…”  Absent that explicit authorization, Moses would have been forbidden to repeat what G-d had told him.  (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 4b, https://www.sefaria.org/Yoma.4b?lang=bi.) 

From this, our sages derived the rule that we must regard everything told to us as confidential, whether or not the speaker so characterizes it.  It may not be divulged to others without explicit permission!  

Most of us routinely forward others’ texts and emails without permission.  (Adding a third party to a reply is much to the same effect). We do so because we don’t consider what we have received to be confidential and/or because we think our recipient has a need, right, or simply an interest.  But under Jewish law, may we disclose a communication without permission only rarely, such as to prevent imminent harm or under judicial compulsion.

Not infrequently, I receive emails with the signature message “Please consider the environment before printing.”  That’s a good idea, but here’s a better one: “In consideration of privacy, please do not forward or copy this email without my permission.”  You might consider adding this to your email signature, and thinking about it before hitting the “forward” key or adding others to replies.  Asking others for their permission will show consideration and may induce them to do likewise, thus spreading respect and minimizing even unintended harm. 

You do have my permission to forward or copy this email. 

Shabbat shalom! 

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A bird that you set free may be caught again, but a word that escapes your lips will not return.
Jewish Proverb