When Rabbi Arthur Waskow wants to explain why his Philadelphia-based Jewish group is suing the National Security Agency, he employs a technique Rabbis have used for millennia: He tells a story.
Waskow recounts a tale of a king who was furious that the Israelites, fleeing slavery in Egypt, were stopping by his kingdom on their 40-year trek through the desert. So he called upon a shaman to put a curse on the wandering tribe. When the shaman arrived at the Israelites’s camp, God turned his curse into a blessing: “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob!”
Why? Later, Rabbis living during the Roman Empire decided what was so “goodly” about the tents was that they provided a shield of privacy for the Jews huddled inside. The empire, after all, employed an extensive network of spies to root out subversives.
The moral of this story, Waskow says with a chuckle,“is if you want to protect yourself from a king who hopes to heap curses upon you, you’re going to need some privacy.”