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Beware of Embarrassing Others

After many, many years of barrenness, Hashem blesses Rochel with a son whom she calls Yosef. This name has a dual meaning. First, it is a prayer for the future. “Yoseif Hashem li ben acheir – May Hashem give to me yet another son.” It is also thanks to Hashem that, “Asaf Elokim es cherpasi – Hashem has gathered in and removed my shame.” On a simple level, this refers to the disgrace that a woman feels from being childless. In Rochel’s case it was more profound than usual since other childless women could at least reason that maybe the source of the problem lies with her husband. But Rochel couldn’t even claim this as her husband already had many children from three other wives. Rashi adds another element of thanks. Until now when something was amiss in the home, everyone blamed her – since she was the only one in the house. Now, her shame was removed since there was a baby around and everyone will say, ‘Yossele did it.’

The Beis Yosef adds yet another angle. In ancient times, there was a custom that a person would have two wives. One would take care of the childbearing responsibilities. The other would be given a ‘cup of sterility’ so that the effects of pregnancy and childbirth should not mar her beauty. Being that Rochel was extraordinarily beautiful, she had to bear the disgrace of malicious slander – that she was Yaakov’s trophy wife. Therefore, when she gave birth to Yosef, she thanked Hashem for removing this disgrace as well.

We must know, however, that she didn’t merely issue these thanks privately in her ‘modim’ prayer in the Shemone Esrei. Rather, she named Yosef after this element of his birth. I believe it is to teach us an even greater lesson. Rochel Imeinu was certain that one day Hashem would remove her shame for she risked everything herself in order to spare her sister Leah from being shamed. When her father Lavan switched Rochel for Leah on the wedding night, Yaakov prepared for this eventuality. Anticipating the deceit of Lavan, Yaakov gave Rochel a secret password. (It was challah, niddah, hadlakas haneir.) Rochel, in a tremendous act of self-sacrifice, gave the password to Leah in order that Leah not be unmasked and shamed by Yaakov. This courageous act to save her sister from disgrace caused Rochel to feel confident that Hashem would also not allow her to remain with her shame. When she had her son and was vindicated in her belief, she named her child Yosef to exhibit and demonstrate this element of midah kneged midah, measure for measure.

This talent of sensitivity to another, Rochel passed down to Yosef, and his name implies that he was also keenly attuned not to embarrass others. Therefore, in Egypt when he was about to make a dramatic announcement to his brothers, “Ani Yosef – It is I, Yosef,” he sent all the Egyptian courtiers out of the room before revealing himself. He did this in order not to embarrass the brothers in front of the Egyptians. This was a great act of courage since the brothers could have over-powered him and killed him right on the spot. Still, Yosef took the risk in order not to embarrass them.

The Medrash Tanchuma teaches us that Yosef has the same gematria as Tzion because the traits and strengths of Yosef are those of all Tzion. This therefore teaches us how careful all of us must be not to embarrass another person. Indeed, it is one of the gravest sins that a Jewish person can commit, for we are taught, “Hamalbin p’nei chaveiro b’rabim – One who habitually embarrasses a person in public, Ein lo cheilek l’olam haba – Will not have a portion in the Afterlife.” Imagine that! A murderer or an adulterer has a portion in eternity but one who habitually embarrasses people loses everything.

Jews have three national traits. We are rachmonim, baishonim, and gomlei chasodim. We are merciful, we have a strong sense of shame, and we do acts of loving-kindness. Since one of our key nationalistic traits is a keen sense of shame, it puts even more of a burden upon us to be sensitive to someone else’s disgrace. Thus, for example, it is imperative that parents find out whether their children are making fun of friends in the schoolyard or whether they are calling their peers by insulting nicknames such as fatty, shnatola, bones or the like. While an American would say, ‘Kids will be kids,’ and, ‘Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me,’ in the Torah world such behaviors must be corrected at a young age lest they continue into adulthood where these behaviors might manifest themselves in shul, in the workplace, and in one’s marriage.

May Hashem bless us that we have the smarts to always be considerate of others and in that merit may we never experience shame, instead may we be blessed with long life, good health and everything wonderful.

Please learn, give tzedaka, and daven l’iluy nishmas of Miriam Liba bas Aharon.

Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss