In this week’s Torah reading, the Torah makes note of a certain episode in history which took place. Noach had gotten drunk, and was found by his son Cham, rolling around naked. Cham informed his brothers, Shem and Yefet, about what he witnessed. They then made the effort to respectfully cover their father, with their backs turned away so as not to see their father in this humiliating state. When Noach woke up and realized what happened, he blessed Shem and Yefet, and his blessings materialized. There were many stories which took place throughout the time period discussed in the Torah, but only a select few are included in the Torah. Every story in the Torah is intended to teach an important lesson. What is so significant about this event?
Your Friend’s Honor – As Precious As Your Own
The Chofetz Chaim (in the list of Mitzvot Aseh, 2, in the preface to Sefer Chofetz Chaim) tells us that the reason the Torah expounds on the this seemingly trivial story is to teach us how important it is to care for the dignity of others. It’s not enough to just passively avoid embarrassing others. It is our duty to go out of our way to hide matters which can be a source of shame to someone. The Chofetz Chaim says that one must do his utmost to cover up for his friend to avoid him being shamed, just as he would for himself.
These are not just the words of the Chofetz Chaim, but a principle taught by the Mishnah. The Mishnah says, (Avot, 2:10) “The honor of your friend should be as precious to you as your own.” Everyone cares tremendously about their own dignity, and will go to great lengths to protect it. One must act the same way when it comes to protecting the dignity of others.
Anything to Avoid Embarrassing Him!
A rabbi once visited Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, and the two got involved in a Talmudic discussion. In the midst of their conversation, the rabbi quoted something in the name of Tosafot. Rabbi Grodzinski argued that he must be mistaken, as there was no place in which Tosafot wrote what the man was quoting. The guest, however, insisted that he was quoting the Tosafot accurately, and stood up to fetch the volume of Talmud in which he believed the Tosafot was printed, in order to prove that he was correct. Uncharacteristically, Rabbi Grodzinski got up, and physically blocked the rabbi from accessing the book he was reaching for.
When the visitor returned home, he decided to look up the Tosafot he had quoted. After doing some research, he realized that Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski was correct. Tosafot indeed did not say that which he was quoting. That is when he understood why Rabbi Grodzinski jumped up to block his access to the volume of Talmud he was reaching for. Rabbi Grodzinski was confident that his visitor was mistaken, and he realized that if his guest would attempt to prove it, he will find that he was mistaken, and he will be very embarrassed over insisting that he was correct when proven that he was wrong. Rabbi Grodzinski was willing to behave in a manner which seemed strange, just for the sake of avoiding having his guest embarrass himself.
But He Brought It Upon Himself!
Unfortunately, this attitude is very neglected in today’s society. Most people would agree that it is wrong to embarrass a person. But how many would go out of their way to prevent others from becoming embarrassed? And if someone is at risk of embarrassing himself, very few people would feel the need to do something to spare him from shame. People will callously say, “It’s his fault! He did it to himself!”
The Torah Teaches Differently
But the Torah teaches us otherwise. In the story with Noach, one could argue that Noach did it to himself, and it was not the responsibility of others to cover him. After all, who asked him to get drunk to the point that he would be rolling around naked? One might even claim that as a consequence for his actions, he deserved to suffer the shame he brought upon himself. But this is not the way of the Torah. The Torah is hereby teaching us that human dignity is extremely important, and one must do his utmost to cover up the source of his friend’s shame, even if he brought it upon himself.
This attitude is a crucial component to the way a Jew lives. It is a sensitivity we must all work to acquire. Whenever we are in a situation in which someone can potentially be embarrassed, we must exercise extreme caution and care to make sure it is avoided. We should always be alert to do anything in our power to spare another person from suffering a sense of shame or humiliation.
By Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber email@example.com