Tuesday, January 26, 2010

205 - Vayeishev

"And she [Tamar] was being taken out [to be killed] and she sent to her father-in-law saying, 'To the man to whom these objects belong, I have become pregnant.' And she said, 'Please identify to whom this signet ring, garment and staff belong'" (Bereishis, 38, 25). Rashi explains that Tamar did not want to tell her father-in-law (Yehuda) point blank that it was from him that she had conceived, because she did not want to publicly embarrass him. Rather, she conveyed the message in a way, that only if he would voluntarily admit his involvement, would she be saved from death. From this incident Chazal deduce that it is better for one to throw himself into a fiery furnace than embarrass another publicly.

Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) asks why Tamar had to give up her life to save Yehuda from embarrassment. Even if embarrassing another publicly is tantamount to murder, nevertheless, halacha mandates that if a person is being pursued by a murderer, he may save his life by killing the murderer. If so, why didn't Tamar save her own life by, so to speak, taking Yehuda's life? The answer is that Chazal did not say that one is obligated to give up his own life to save another from embarrassment; they said it is better for one to give up their life. Such an act would not be considered suicide, because situations in which one employs negative middos have an added stringency. Tamar did not have to give up her life; she wanted to give up her life in order not to habituate herself to reacting with a negative middah that would cause suffering to a fellow Jew. This idea is accentuated by another statement of Chazal. "He who embarrasses his friend publicly, loses his portion in the World to Come," while even murder itself isn't accompanied by such a harsh punishment.

In a similar vein, Rabbeinu Yonah writes (Sha'arei Teshuvah Chap. 3, 188) that one must place himself in mortal danger rather than flatter a wicked person. He bases this statement on a story related in the Gemara (see Sotah 41a). This begs the question that we know that one is only obligated to give up his life in order not to commit the three cardinal sins, and flattering a wicked person is not one of them? The answer is, that it is so dangerous for one to acquire a negative trait that it is better for him to place himself in danger than to perform an act motivated by the negative trait.

Life is a most precious commodity. However, Chazal declared that it is better for someone to give up his life rather than embarrass another publicly, for there is nothing worse than causing another Jew to suffer.

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