When to Enter and When to Leave
You’re invited to a party. Do you ever have a problem figuring
out when to stay and when to leave?
A friend confidentially consults with you about a personal
matter. Do you know how far to pry and when to pull back?
You are concerned about a friend’s behavior. Do you
know when it’s appropriate to intervene, and when
you need to butt out?
You hear about a needy situation, but you too are in need?
Do you take care of yourself or the other?
You hear a secret about someone. Should you act on it or
You’re dating someone you like. How fast should you open
up and how much should you keep concealed?
You are married to someone you love and trust. Do you share
every detail of your inner life?
For years your voice has been suppressed in a dysfunctional
silencing home. Now that you have broken the silence, how
much – and to whom – should you be speaking?
You love someone deeply. Do you drown them in your love,
giving endlessly, or do you stop at some point, and at what
You get deeply inspired and are ready to do anything in
that regard. When do you follow your instincts and when
do you pause and reflect?
All these quandaries are rooted in the bigger question
of defining healthy boundaries: What part of life should
remain confidential and hidden, and what part should be
revealed? When do we enter another person’s private
life, and when do we stay out? When do we allow others into
our inner sanctums and when do we not? When do we close
the door and when do we open it? And when we do open and
close, how much do we open up and how much do we keep closed?
These are not small questions. They touch upon issues of
intimacy, trust, vulnerability, identity, self-confidence,
fear, security and insecurity.
A striking contrast between the name of this week’s
Torah portion and last week’s provides us with a formula
to answer these and many other pressing questions.
Compare the names of these two Torah chapters: Last week’s
portion began, “when you will go out.” This
week’s portion opens, “when you will enter.” Go out
vs. enter: There are times and situations when we must “go
out,” and there are times and situations when we must enter.
The difference between the two is not semantic. Entering
and leaving – going in and going out – carries
the secret of all success. Knowing the difference teaches
us profound lessons in distinguishing between the two worlds
– your inner life and your outer life. Some call it
having “healthy boundaries:” A healthy individual
is one who has a crystal clear distinction between the parameters
of his/her own identity and another’s identity; where
his identity ends and another’s begins. He has a strong
sense of self coupled with a profound compassion of others.
He knows when to take care of his own needs and when to
care for another’s.
Many of us often err by leaning too much to one extreme
or the other: As caretakers of others we can compromise
ourselves; or sometimes we get too self-consumed and neglect
to help others. The secure individual is one who has an
internal compass, deep focus and an intimate space within,
while at the same time knowing when – and having the
courage to – give time for another.
This balance is necessary across the board. Efficient leadership,
for instance, requires knowing how much to do and rely on
yourself and how much to delegate and outsource. Self confidence
is dependent on an equilibrium between self-reliance (“if
I am not for m,yself who will be for me?”) and relying
on others (“if I am only for myself who am I?”).
Wholesome love is possible when there is a balance between
closeness and space. It’s not love if the relationship
annihilates the identity of either of the partners. True
love is when two distinct individuals come together as one,
while maintaining their unique individuality. If their closeness
is at the expense of their identities, or they remain cautiously
apart in fear of losing themselves, they are not in a relationship.
The wise sage put it thus: “When you are close when you
should be distant, you will be distant when you should be
close.” A healthy relationship is one where there is a delicate
balance between intimacy and distance. The mystics call
it the symmetry between love (chesed) and discipline
Not to neglect the economy. Investors will tell you that
the key to all good decisions is to know when to get in
and when to get out, when to buy and when to sell. Often
the move has to be made in a split-second: Facilitated by
program trading, millions of stocks are bought and then
immediately sold within nano-seconds. Not this advice helps
anyone much (if it did, we wouldn’t be in our current
mess). Except, of course, for Goldman Sachs and some others
who have somewhat sensed when to stay and when to leave.
So how do we decide what belongs within and what remains
outside? When should we enter and when should we leave?
How do we determine when we should be “in” and
when we should stay “out?”
Tells us the Torah: When waging war “go out;”
when entering the Promised Land “go in.”
The world we live in is made up of an outside and an inside
– form and function, body and soul, a package and
the treasure it contains. Accordingly, we must have two
set of very separate tools: the ones we use to protect ourselves
and survive in a hostile world. The resources we access
to tame the elements and wage the inevitable battles of
life. And the ones we use to experience love and intimacy
The key is never to confuse the two. That which belongs
outside – wars, battles, conflicts – should
always remain outside. Never bring the anxieties of the
workplace into your home and your inner space. And that
which belongs within – love, intimacy, subtlety, sublimity
– should remain protected within.
This doesn’t mean that we should not attempt to bring love
to our outer lives. Obviously, we must be sensitive souls
in every situation, even in an unfriendly environment. But,
at the same time we must always remember that your intimate
life is not your external life and vice versa. Your home
and the street are not the same. Many of our inner feelings
are meant to be just that – internal, intimate experiences.
Not every private thing has to be worn on our sleeves (about
a drunkard, they say, “whatever is on his lung is on his
Modern life, sadly, has blurred the boundaries between
our inner and outer lives. Things that are supposed to remain
outside have entered into our inner sanctums, and things
that are supposed to remain within are often inappropriately
exposed and exploited.
An obscene example of these blurred boundaries is the dysfunctional
life. Abuse of any sort is like an infection, which must
be exposed, subdued and vanquished. When the infection is
concealed, and everyone who experienced it is driven into
a conspiracy of silence, it begins to fester until it becomes
a monster. By the time its consequences explode and life
has become unbearable, the situation is often completely
out of control. All because of what? Because of instead
of “going out” – revealing the crime –
to wage war against it, the abusers chose to “go in”
and keep it all a secret. That secret is in many ways worse
than the crime – invalidating the pain and the dignity
of the person who was hurt; closing off the possibility
to seek help. “The silence,” they say, “was
worse than the rape.”
Then there is the other end of the spectrum – when
the battles we wage “outside” intrude our homes
and souls. Do children really need to hear the gossip, politics
and conflicts of their parents’ lives? Won’t
they have enough to deal with when they have to enter the
harsh world? Protect their innocent minds and hearts as
long as you can.
And what about us adults? Do we have to bring into our
pure hearths – the troubles of our outer lives? Why
not reserve some of our inner space for more sublime experiences?
In every situation we should always avoid confrontation.
But in those instances when we encounter adversary and there
is no choice but to wage war – then at least do so
“outside” of your inner self. Don’t let
your enemies contaminate your soul.
Your “inside” should be reserved for entering the “promised
land” – the internal life of your heart, soul, love and
Some things ought to always remain within. Not because
they are “secrets,” but because they are fundamentally
internal experiences that cannot be contained by the tangible
Our deepest and most powerful experiences happen in silence.
Not to be confused with the silence of the weak or the fearful,
the profound silence of the intimate is louder than sound,
stronger than force. It is the essence of the Divine experienced
not through the senses but in silence. G-d was not in the
wind, earthquake, or fire that Elijah saw on Mt. Horeb,
but in the still, subtle voice (Kings 1 19:11-12).
The still, subtle voice – that is where we should enter.
Everything else can remain outside your door.