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: Spend time planning the best way to address a problematic issue without harming anyone’s dignity.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
Taking A Deeper Look - Lesson #23
SHAMING OTHERS -
HALBANAS PANIM הלבנה פנים
PART 2 – The Severity of the Issur
Publicly shaming another Jew is tantamount to shedding blood, since when one is embarrassed, the blood literally drains from the victim’s face. If someone makes a habit of this behavior, he goes down to the depths of gehinnom and has no portion in Olam Haba.
Chazal say that “One should rather let himself be thrown into a fiery furnace than expose another person to public shame.” The Midrash Tanchuma cites an example (Bereishis 45:1). Yosef ordered everyone out of his chambers before revealing himself to his brothers to spare them from shame. By doing so, he was risking his life, since at that point Yehuda was furious and ready to attack him. Nevertheless, he preferred to be killed rather than to embarrass his brothers in public.
Why do we consider death preferable to embarrassing someone in public? One approach (by the Rashbatz) is that the momentary pain of death is far less agonizing than the anguish of lifelong shame. Rabbeinu Yona takes this a step further. He says that even the pain that one experiences briefly at the moment of embarrassment may be worse than death. The Sefer Chassidim adds that, given the choice, the victim might well choose to die rather than suffer embarrassment.
From Chazal’s statement, it is better to throw oneself into the fire than to publicly shame another person, it would appear that the issur of halbanas panim is on par with the three most serious sins-gilui arayos (adultery), shefichas damim (murder), and avoda zara (idolatry)-for which the rule is yehareig v’al ya’avor (allow yourself to be killed rather than violate them). In practice, is this true?
Some opinions imply that this is literally the case, including Rabbeinu Yona, who claims that it is parallel to a minor infraction of any of the other serious sins. Just as one may not use the wood of an asheira, a tree used as avoda zara, even if someone may die if it is not used (although this is not an act of idolatry but rather an auxiliary form of it), so would halbanas panim be forbidden even as an alternative to death.
On the other hand, according to other opinions, the statement of Chazal was meant figuratively, to stress the severity of the issur.
An indication of the severity of halbanas panim is that while an adulterer is punished by death, afterwards he is granted his share in olam haba, whereas one who embarrasses another Jew loses his portion in olam haba.
The circumstances in which halbanas panim takes place can intensify the violation. Extreme care should be taken not to shame a person in front of a talmid chacham, nor in shul, and certainly not before a sefer Torah. In this context, we should be careful when correcting a chazzan or a ba’al korei when he makes a mistake, so as to minimize their embarrassment as much as possible. In Perek Chelek, we are told that one who shames his friend in the presence of a talmid chacham loses his portion in olam haba.
(Excerpted from The Code of Jewish Conduct by Rabbi Yitzchok Silver.)
Story: (based on a true story)
It was over fifteen years ago, but I still remember. Sometimes, when I hear what used to be a song full of wonderful memories, something inside me breaks, and I want to run away and hide in a corner all because of one Simchas Torah.
I was brought up in a traditional home. My mother lit Shabbos candles, we ate kosher style, and we went to shul on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. When I was little, sometimes on Friday nights I would sit in my Zeidi’s lap and he would tell me about the Europe of long ago. I listened as he described his home and his mama, and when he was done, he would sometimes sing a song while he bounced me up and down.
Years passed, Zeidi passed on and I started high school. After two years of high school my parents made me switch schools and I found myself in a private Jewish school. By the first day, I knew I was really different from everyone there. I’d thought I was so religious; most of my Jewish friends in my neighborhood didn’t do anything for Shabbos, or care if they ate cheese-burgers. One girl would say, “Look at Carrie, the good little Jew” whenever I skipped a mall outing in order to eat the traditional Friday night meal with my family.
I had been looking forward to finally being the same as everyone else, but from day one, it was clear that wasn’t the case. My clothes were different, my food was different, and apparently I knew nothing about the Shabbos I’d sacrificed for. I listened closely, and tried hard to learn.
And I learned, so much. It was hard, but Torah fascinated me, especially the laws between man and man and the holiday traditions. By the time Succos rolled around, I didn’t want to miss it. I stayed with a friend for the first days, and enjoyed the Succah in her backyard. We went to the local shul, and it was nice, if unfamiliar. I could see myself going there more often. I spent the middle days home doing nothing, and then went back to her for the second days.
On Simchas Torah night, we went to the same shul and found ourselves a spot right in front of the women’s section just feet from where the men were dancing. It was crazy-the loud singing, the children running everywhere and their fathers shuffled or leaped around in a circle. I zoned out.
About an hour in, in the midst of all the mayhem, I heard something. I tuned back in and listened more carefully. The men were singing one of Zeidi’s songs! Oh, it was that song he sang when he was happy, the one with no words, just the ay-ay-ay. I knew this song. Without even being aware, I began to sing along. A group of men passed by where I stood with my friend and a bunch of chattering women, and one of the men looked in our direction and said a loud “Shhh!” Good, I thought. The women will be quiet, and I’ll hear Zeidi’s song. See? I grew up Jewish too! I know things.
A couple of minutes later, the man came around the large circle again, clapping loudly. Suddenly he turned, and came straight toward the table in front of me, toward me. “STOP SINGING!” he shouted, pointing at me, his voice louder than all the singing men put together. “You CAN’T SING in shul!”
Time stopped for a moment. Everyone in shul looked my way, and I stood stock still, mouth still open. Apparently satisfied that I had stopped singing and wasn’t fighting back, the men went back to their dancing and the women to their talking. Beyond shocked, I slammed my mouth shut, and the man moved back into the circle, dancing and singing loudly with his tzitzis swinging.
I began to realize that the women were talking about me. Some were pointing. They wondered who I was. Across the shul, I saw the shul’s rabbi look in my direction briefly, and then go back to the conversation he was having. He wasn’t going to help me; he probably thought I was completely ignorant. I quickly made my way out and ran back to my friend’s house. As she protested, I packed my bag quickly, found my car keys, and drove home.
So this was Orthodox Judaism. All those, “Don’t do this, don’t do that” rules. Apparently if you violate one, even one you don’t know about, you get yelled at in front of an entire shul and nobody helps you. Well, I couldn’t handle that again. I could not handle that level of embarrassment if I made another mistake. I was done. I would light my candles like my mother did, because it’s what my mother did, but that was it. I didn’t need people like this, or a religion like this.
And that’s what I did, for the next five years. I stayed in my school, kept my head down, and stayed with the girls who were more on the edge of religion. I went to an Ivy League college, where I lit my Shabbos candles on Friday night and then went into town with my friends. In my third year, I met the man who eventually became my husband, and he dragged me to Hillel, where I met religious Jews who were horrified by the story I eventually told them about that Simchas Torah years ago.
They were all really great there, accepting me, and my observance slowly grew and grew. My future husband’s grew as well, and eventually we got married and settled in an Orthodox community where we are raising our children and sending them to a religious school. And the whole time, all through those years and still today, part of me looks over my shoulder and wonders, “Am I good enough? Have I done something wrong? Will someone yell at me if I miss something?” I have to push myself not to stay far in the background, where nobody can see me to find anything wrong and call me out.
I know a lot of things now that I didn’t know as a junior in high school. Odds are, not everyone was looking at me. The rabbi probably didn’t hear what had been said-he just noticed a disturbance. And, it’s possible that the man who yelled at me had a really bad day, or week, or had anger management issues. But none of these are excuses for his yelling at me, in front of the entire congregation. How was I ever supposed to show my face there again? The girl who must have been such a bad Jew that she needed to get yelled at? He didn’t think of that. And it nearly cost me my yiddishkeit.
Discussion Question Options:
In which situations are we most at risk to shame someone?
In what ways can embarrassment permanently affect people’s lives?
How responsible are we for things that occur the one time we might lose our temper at someone?
Stretch of the Week:
Count to ten in your head before addressing someone out of frustration or anger in public.