Tag Archives: embarrassment

When the Fruit Tree is Silent

the-fruit-treeOne who humiliates another person in public … even though he may be a scholar and may have done many good deeds, nevertheless loses his portion in the eternal world.

-Ethics of the Fathers 3:15

Imagine a situation: you have a fine home, a well-paying job, a comfortable car, and a substantial retirement annuity. If you do a single thoughtless act, you will lose everything you have worked to achieve: home, job, car, and savings. What kind of precautions would you take to avoid even the remotest possibility of incurring such a disaster? Without doubt, you would develop an elaborate system of defenses to assure that this event would never occur.

The Talmud tells us that everything we have worked for during our entire lives can be forfeited in one brief moment of inconsideration: we embarrass another person in public. Perhaps we may say something insulting or make a demeaning gesture. Regardless of how it occurs, the Talmud states that if we cause another person to turn pale because of being humiliated in public, we have committed the equivalent of bloodshed.

Still, we allow our tongues to wag so easily. If we give serious thought to the words of the Talmud, we would exercise the utmost caution in public and be extremely sensitive to other people’s feelings, lest an unkind word or degrading gesture deprive us of all our spiritual merits.

Today I shall…

…try to be alert and sensitive to other people’s feelings and take utmost caution not to cause anyone to feel humiliated.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Adar 2”

I suppose this is a continuation of a previous morning meditation and yet another attempt on my part to appeal to the body of faith. I am aware of a discussion in the Hebrew Roots “blogosphere” that has cast me and a friend of mine in an unfavorable light, but up until now, I’ve said nothing about it. I certainly have no intention of visiting said-blog and attempting to refute the accusations. What would be the point? As we see from Talmudic wisdom, behaving unkindly in response to criticism is unsustainable. Of course virtually all Christians, including those in the Hebrew Roots movement, have little use for the Talmud, so I imagine Rabbi Twerski’s appeal is in vain when applied to such an audience.

Accessing the Bible, do we really get a sense that if we humiliate another person publicly, we’ll lose our salvation as the Rabbi suggests? No? So why worry about it? I guess we are free to humiliate others with impunity, right?

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Romans 1:28-32 (ESV)

OK, that’s a little harsh, even for me. Also, Paul was talking about God’s wrath upon the unrighteous, and that couldn’t possibly include anyone in the body of Christ, could it? Maybe I should look elsewhere for more appropriate scriptures.

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

1 John 3:11-15 (ESV)

That may still be a little over the top, since you don’t actually have to hate someone in order to publicly embarrass and humiliate them. I’m sure my recent critics don’t actually hate me. Given that, is it OK with Jesus then to be insulting?

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

Matthew 5:21-22 (ESV)

Hmmm. I don’t know about you, but that one seems to be pretty close to the mark. In fact, it is pretty much identical to the following:

He who publicly shames his neighbour is as though he shed blood.

-Talmud: Bava Mezia 58b

studying-talmudWell, so much for the Talmud having absolutely and totally no relevance to a Christian life of faith. Perhaps a certain amount of the Torah and traditional Jewish halachah applies to Christians after all, if it connects back to what we learn from our Master.

But getting back to the main point of this missive, it seems that (and I’ve mentioned this many times before) our endless series of rants, public insults toward others, and general “bad mouthing” of other Christians with whom we disagree, isn’t exactly “kosher,” so to speak. Unfortunately, when I say stuff like this, the usual response from some quarters is that I’m just an old “softie” and that I’m sacrificing “clarity” and “truth” for the sake of patience, kindness, avoiding envy or proud boasting, and attempting not to dishonor others (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-5).

Obviously, I’m not perfect at it, thus some of the language that I’ve included in this “extra meditation.”

But what are we to do under such circumstances when other believers insist on overlooking both Matthew 5:21-22 and its Talmudic corollary Bava Mezia 58b?

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:14-21 (ESV)

But in making this an issue on my blog, am I “repaying evil for evil” rather than “heaping burning coals” (by heaping kindness) upon the heads of those who are so critical of me? (As an aside, Paul’s quoting partially from Proverbs 25:22, so again, I guess more of the Torah is applicable upon us than we commonly realize.)

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Easier said than done, especially on the Internet, when people visit each other’s blogs and make sniping comments like gangbangers doing drive-by shootings. It’s one of the reasons I don’t visit and especially don’t comment on the blogs of some of my “opponents.” My minor effort at not repaying evil for evil and perpetuating the cycle of “drive-bys.”

But this still isn’t working because I’m still writing a message to people who don’t want to listen. There’s no hope of trying to get them to see why what we’re all doing is so wrong. Self-justification is a powerful lure and there’s a tendency to confuse our priorities with God’s.

But if there’s no hope, what’s left?

There is hope, and there is trust in G-d –and they are two distinct attitudes.

Hope is when there is something to latch on to, some glimmer of a chance. The drowning man, they say, will clutch at any straw to save his life.

Trust in G-d is even when there is nothing in which to hope. The decree is sealed. The sword is drawn over the neck. By all laws of nature there is no way out.

But the One who runs the show doesn’t need any props.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Between Hope and Trust”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

shhhhSo I should trust in God to take care of whatever (or whoever) is bothersome and move on. That’s pretty much what Rabbi Freeman said as I quoted him on a previous meditation.

Why don’t people like to remain silent when others insult them? Because they’re afraid that others might think they’re weak and unable to answer back.

The truth is, it takes much greater strength to remain silent when someone insults you. Revenge, on the other hand, is a sign of weakness. A revenger lacks the necessary strength of character to forgive.

(Rabbi Yerachmiel Shulman; Ketzais Ha’shemesh Big’vuraso, p.42; Rabbi Pliskin’s “Gateway to Happiness,” p. 302)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #728: It Takes Strength to Keep Silent”

Yeah. I’ve got to work on that one. After all, I can hardly say I’ve advanced further spiritually than my critics if I’m just as prone to the same misbehavior as they display. We shall know a tree by its fruit. In my case, I’ve striving to be a “silent fruit tree.”

Taking a page from Rabbi Twerski’s book…

Today I shall…

…try to refrain from replying to insults that others say to me or to those people I care about and strive to return good for evil.

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?