The Embarrassing Murder

On today’s amud we find a decree was instituted to avoid publicly embarrassing a fellow Jew.

Many are unaware that Rav Chaim Kaplan, zt”l, was the son-in-law of the famous mashgiach, Rav Yeruchem Levovitz, zt”l. As can well be imagined, Rav Kaplan was a baal mussar in the full sense of the word.

One time, Rav Kaplan’s student, Rav Waxman, saw him crying his eyes out, obviously absolutely devastated. This was a very shocking sight since it was a regular day in the beis medrash and the young man had not heard that any tragedy had occurred. The student approached Rav Kaplan and asked him what was bothering him, but the latter was so heartbroken that it was a while before he could answer. When the student inquired a second time, the rav tearfully asked him to bring a gemara Bava Metzia.

When the young man brought it from the shelf, the rav opened to the sugya in Hazahav that discusses the seriousness of embarrassing a fellow Jew in public. He concluded with the statement on daf 59 that one should throw himself into fiery furnace instead of publicly embarrassing another, which we learn from Tamar.

“We see from here that embarrassing another is compared to murder,” Rav Kaplan said sadly. “Imagine you were here in this beis midrash in the middle of seder when one young man pulled out a gun in front of everyone and shot his fellow student in the heart. Surely, anyone with a drop of human feeling would be unable to hold back from crying bitter tears after witnessing such a tragedy! After I witness one young man approach a fellow student and publicly shame him, is it any wonder that I cry? It is a wonder how a person could fail to cry!?”

Mishna Berura Yomi Digest
Stories to Share
“A Tragedy in the Beis Medrash”
Siman 139, Seif 1-3

I periodically receive a little criticism for suggesting that the Talmud and various Rabbinic commentaries are appropriate lenses by which to view the teachings of Christ and my faith in Jesus. For example, we see above that for one Jew to embarrass another in public is compared with the act of murder. In this tale’s rather dramatic telling, Rav Kaplan is seen to be crying uncontrollably, as if he had witnessed a horrible act of violence, after seeing one student in the beis midrash publicly shame another. Whether this event actually took place or not, can we really say that embarrassing someone in public is the same as pulling out a gun and shooting them? Can we find anything that Jesus taught that can even approach this?

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the congregation. And if he refuses to listen even to the congregation, let him be to you as a pagan and a tax collector. –Matthew 18:15-17

You’ve probably heard this before, but the reason you have to go through such a lengthy set of steps in confronting the brother who has sinned against you, is to avoid embarrassing him. You approach him alone first, so the nature of his sin and the confrontation is just between the two of you. If he repents, then no one else is the wiser and no one has to be embarrassed. If that’s not effective, then you next approach your brother with just two or three witnesses. Again, the information is contained and only a few people have to become aware of the incident. Only if the sinner doesn’t repent are you compelled to bring the matter before the entire congregation, thus causing your brother embarrassment which, at this point, is probably unavoidable.

While Jesus doesn’t say embarrassing your fellow is like killing him, he obviously felt that embarrassing someone was a serious matter and should not be taken lightly. Jesus also said this:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. –Matthew 5:27-29

Now is looking at a woman and having lustful thoughts about her really the exact same thing as actually having sexual relations with her? After all, the former is not a physical act, it’s just a thought and perhaps a feeling. Maybe you fantasize about what it would be like to have “relations”, but nothing actually happens. The latter requires that you arrange to enter into a relationship with her, at least enough of one to be able to get together with her alone and have actual, physical sex.

And yet Jesus said they were the same. So can’t publicly embarrassing someone be the same as actually killing the person, in the eyes of God?

I don’t have God’s point of view, so I can’t say that He equates embarrassment to death (although many human beings have felt so embarrassed that they wanted to crawl under a rock and die, euphemistically speaking), but if we take Christ’s teaching to heart and reflect back upon the tale of Rav Kaplan, perhaps we should act as if it’s that important a matter.

Could it hurt?

5 thoughts on “The Embarrassing Murder”

  1. Jimmy Carter, with his candid nature, admitted that he had committed adultery many times in his heart. This is exactly the kind of attitude that God loves, and on which forgiveness is determined.

  2. As I recall Andrew, he mentioned that in an interview he gave to Playboy magazine some decades ago, introducing a “problematic” element to his disclosure. 😉

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