We must go out of our way and to do anything we can to avoid embarrassing another human being. That should be among the highest priorities of God-fearing people.
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week’s Torah portion is “Vayeitzei” (Genesis 28:10–32:3), and in it we read about the Rachel-Leah switcharoo fiasco. Jacob, having escaped Esau’s wrath by running to live with his uncle Lavan, seeks to marry his cousin Rachel. Lavan agrees on condition that Jacob first work for him for seven years. Jacob agrees.
However, Jacob knew that his uncle, and soon to be father-in-law, wasn’t exactly “Mr. Honest.” Jacob was correctly concerned that Rachel may not be given to him in marriage and that instead she might be swapped for Leah, the older sister.
In order to pre-empt this expected move, Jacob gave Rachel a secret code, a password, that she would have to state at the wedding to ensure it was really her. This was needed because the bride was fully veiled at the wedding ceremony and the room was dark when they were consummating the marriage.
So there they are at the wedding ceremony. Jacob is about to put the ring on his bride’s finger, and before doing so he asks for the password. The correct password is given. Confirmation that it is Rachel, right? Wrong.
It was Leah. And she had the password! This is what happened: The switcheroo was made just as Jacob had predicted. Rachel, knowing what kind of terrible fiasco and embarrassment it would be for her sister to be rejected at her wedding, she gave Leah the password. Yes, Rachel waited seven years to marry Jacob and yet she gave that all up in a second to save her sister from humiliation. This is the greatness of Rachel.
We see from here how important it is not to embarrass anyone…even at great personal expense. There are many examples of this in Jewish thought and practice.
For example, sacrifices that were offered in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem for severe sins were brought in a private location and not out in the open, as opposed to most other sacrifices, so the sinner would not be seen by the masses. So too, with minor exception, the confession of sins in prayer should be done in a whisper so that others in the congregation do not hear the offenses that one has committed. And when giving charity to the poor, one should try to do so in a way that the recipients do not know the identity of the donor, when possible, in order to save them from the embarrassment of having to receive charity.
There are countless other examples as well. The Talmud even says that embarrassing another person publicly is comparable to murder.
Perhaps the greatest take-away from this week’s Torah portion, and certainly the greatest take-away from the life and accomplishments of Rachel, is to care about the feelilngs of others. To go out of our way to help others maintain their dignity and certainly to do everything we can to avoid embarrassing anyone, young or old.
We are not at the level of Rachel and we are not expected to forgo our wedding day in order to avoid embarrassing another person, but no doubt that we can all find ways to improve in this area!
For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.
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