Not Embarrassing Others

Vayigash: A resource for families.

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Reprinted with permission from Torah Topics for Today.

Children often embarrass each other in front of friends, causing great pain and shame. We, as parents, want to make them aware of how hurtful such behavior is. In Jewish thought embarrassing someone in public is considered a serious crime, akin to killing someone. Judaism is sensitive to how painful an experience humiliation can be.

In fact, Joseph provides a good model for us in our biblical portion. Having been estranged and separated from his brothers for years, he vindicates his own painful experience at their hands by becoming a powerful Egyptian ruler. It has been many years and he is dressed as an Egyptian, so the brothers don't recognize Joseph.

shy kidAfter Judah pleads with Joseph not to imprison his younger brother Benjamin, Joseph forgives his brothers. He then demands that all the Egyptians leave the room. Left alone with his brothers, only then does he reveal his identity. Not knowing how they will react, he protects their privacy by asking anyone from outside the family to leave the room. Despite the harm they have done him, he is at this point in our story attuned to their feelings and does not want to embarrass them in front of others.

Joseph's sensitivity gives us a clue of how to behave in our own home. By being more sensitive to our children's potential embarrassment, we can teach them to be sensitive to others. Some simple guidelines can spare them embarrassment:  don't talk about your children in the third person, as if they aren't in the room; don't reveal their secrets to others; act appropriately with their friends.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about how Joseph was sensitive to the feelings of his brothers and spared them embarrassment.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:
·    Have you ever been embarrassed publicly? How did you handle the situation?
·    Have you ever embarrassed someone else publicly? How did he react?
·    Why do we feel the need sometimes to embarrass people in front of others?
·    What can we do to control our urges to embarrass others publicly?

© Copyright 2010 Joyce and Fred Claar

Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses

Dianne Cohler-Esses is the first Syrian Jewish woman to be ordained as a rabbi. She was ordained in 1995 at the Jewish Theological Seminary. She is currently a freelance educator and writer, teaching and writing about a wide range of Jewish subjects. She lives in New York City with her journalist husband and their three children.