Thursday, August 27, 2009

Never Shame Another

People often have a strange notion that if they do something as a joke, it is for some reason not prohibited since they “didn’t mean anything by it,” or “were just having a little innocent fun” at their friend’s expense. Such people may be very careful with the details of Torah law, but sadly use lame excuses like these to insult others in public even though the violation is compared to killing the victim! Unfortunately, it is often very difficult to break the habit of one who habitually embarrasses others, especially if he is wealthy or influential.
Once Rav Chunah Halberstam, zt”l, the av beis din of Kalshitz and the author of Direi Chunah, visited a certain city whose rosh hakahal was known for his biting humor. This rosh hakahal would embarrass everyone but was especially free with those he felt were of lower social status than himself. Although people had tried to explain the seriousness of this sin to the rosh hakahal he would just brush such rebuke aside, and continue publicly shaming others. The only way this problem could be corrected was through drastic measures.
Rav Chunah—who knew of the problem—turned to the rosh hakahal and said, “You should know that one is literally obligated to give up his life before embarrassing a fellow Jew. Everyone knows that we are obligated to give up our lives for the three cardinal sins of murder, idolatry, or gilui arayos. But it is not only these sins themselves but also the subsidiaries of these three sins that demand such a response. We find in Bava Metzia 58 that anyone who embarrasses another is compared to having killed him. Clearly one must give up his life before doing so, since this is just like murder!”
These fiery words of rebuke which were spoken with pain made a great impression on the rosh hakahal. From the day people noticed a marked improvement in his behavior.

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