22 - Shaming Others part 1

One of Bnai Yisrael's outstanding qualities is byshanus, and the Torah is very meticulous about protecting a Jew from shame.

We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create z’chusim for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.


Last week’s stretch of the week was: Make a “Hello” call to someone you know who may need a little extra support, being careful not to say something that might hurt them.

Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.

Taking A Deeper Look - Lesson #22


 PART 1 – Do not shame another Jew, even as part of rebuke


One of Bnai Yisrael’s outstanding qualities is byshanus, and the Torah is very meticulous about protecting a Jew from shame. We see how strongly the Torah values kavod ha’bri’ose-human dignity-by the fact that the chachamim were willing to forgo their own honor, by allowing the rules they instituted to be disregarded in specific cases where human dignity was at stake.

For example, Kohanim are permitted to pass through places where there are certain types of tum’as ha’mais d’rabbanan-rabbinical prohibition-in order to show respect for a mourner. Likewise, certain objects that are muktza, a rabbinical prohibition, may be handled if necessary for personal hygiene in the bathroom on Shabbos. Even the dignity of a simple thief is taken into consideration in the Torah. One who steals and then sells or slaughters an ox has to pay back the equivalent of five oxen; one who steals and then slaughters a sheep, and therefore has to suffer the shame of carrying the beast on his shoulders through the streets, has only to repay four times its value.

According to most opinions, the obligation not to shame another Jew is a Torah obligation. There is a debate among the poskim as to the source for this prohibition. Some say that the issur of halbanas panim-literally, making a person’s face turn pale-is derived from the issur of lo sonu, not hurting another Jew.

According to other opinions, the issur derives from the conclusion of the passuk requiring us to give tochacha, rebuke: “Reprove your fellow, and do not bear sin because of him (Vayikra 19:17). The Gemara explains this: Correct him if you see him doing wrong, but if you think you can do so even if this means putting him to shame, “do not bear sin because of him.” If you must rebuke him, be careful not to shame him while doing so.

Therefore, we should not reprove the wrongdoer in public since this will cause him embarrassment. Even when rebuking him privately, we should not come down hard on him but should rather choose our words carefully, so as not to embarrass him.

(Excerpted from The Code of Jewish Conduct by Rabbi Yitzchok Silver.)

Story:  (based on a true story) 

My minivan full of boys slowly emptied out as I stopped at each boy’s house after picking them up from a late seder at yeshiva. The night’s drive was going alright. The boys were being typical boys after a long day, exchanging sometimes loud opinions on homework and baseball, but nothing too crazy.

About halfway through the ride, I heard my son Chaim saying something dismissive of another boy. Rather than point it out to him in front of the other boys, I filed it away and tried to figure out when to talk to him in private for a minute, and what I would say.

I didn’t need much more time. It took me some time to realize that with Chaim, I need to tell him what he did wrong clearly but succinctly. If I go on for more than a sentence or two, even if I’m adding encouragement, he starts to feel embarrassed and bad about himself and turns off and away. This is the exact opposite of my daughter, who needs a discussion of how to change things in the future followed by extra comforting. Chaim doesn’t need or want all of that attention. Sometimes, before I’m halfway into the first sentence, he looks straight at me and says, “I know, Ima”. And I know that he really does, and we’re done.

I knew that with this issue, where he might not have realized what he said or how he said it and needed it pointed out to him so he could know for the future, I only needed a minute. But it had to be private. Nobody wants anyone else hearing them get told they messed up, but Chaim in particular was a private person in general, even with his accomplishments. Being overheard even by his little brother would upset him. Finding privacy in our house wasn’t going to be easy. The minute Chaim and I would walk in the door, I would be engulfed in late homework/bath time/bedtime rituals, and he would wolf down all of our Shabbos leftovers and head to his shared room to do his homework.

I did my last weekly drop-off, and headed for my house in a now silent and darkened car. I realized that there were still a few minutes until we got home, so I seized the moment, and after a short glance toward Chaim, I calmly and quickly told him what I had heard and what was wrong about it. I then quickly checked in that he understood, and received a silent pause, followed by a very low and reluctant, “Uh huh.” I was confused by the response, but proud of myself for providing tochacha in the manner which I knew my son needed, without going on too long and with careful word choice I planned beforehand.

Minutes later, I pulled into our driveway and turned off the car. As the rear door opened, I heard, “Thanks, Mrs. Schoenfeld!” and saw a flash of movement across our front lawn. And everything in me suddenly went still and heavy. I had forgotten that my next door neighbor’s son had gone to visit the yeshiva and I’d taken him home that night. He was in the darkened car, sitting just in back of Chaim, for the entire ride.

No wonder Chaim had reacted so reluctantly. Had I turned my head a little more, had I checked better to make sure, I would have seen this extra, quiet boy who Chaim spends time with on a regular basis and would have to face in broad daylight the next day.

Though I know he was embarrassed, Chaim was less upset with me than I expected. He knew it was an honest mistake. But it reminds me, almost every time I drive that carpool, that I have to be extra careful to make sure not to embarrass my kids. My job is to correct them in order to build them up, not to take them down.

Discussion Question Options: 

Is there a difference between shaming someone through a desire to hurt and shaming them accidentally through rebuke?

How can we rebuke or correct someone in a productive way that does not shame the recipient?

How can we help ourselves to avoid shaming the people we care about? What are some pitfalls that might cause us to slip up?

Stretch of the Week: 

Spend time planning the best way to address a problematic issue without harming anyone’s dignity.


Stretch Of The Week