Somewhere along the way on our life journeys, we learn that we should not embarrass
others. Public shaming causes another to be embarrassed and is an act of bullying. In this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, after many years of estrangement Joseph is about to reveal his true identity to his brothers. Before doing so, he asks that all others leave the room, because he is not sure how his brothers will react. Upon hearing Joseph’s news, they may speak harshly, perhaps even make false accusations. By requesting privacy, Joseph protects his brothers from public embarrassment. Joseph understands that causing someone else shame is not in keeping with treating others with respect, kindness and love.
By adhering to a few simple guidelines,we too can avoid lashon harah, which literally means “evil tongue,” but refers to slander, gossip and hurtful words. Like Joseph, we too can spare others from potential embarrassment by remembering: rebukes should be private, not public; someone else’s news should be theirs, and not ours, to share; the privacy we would wish for ourselves should be accorded to others. The next time it crosses our mind to publicly speak ill of another, whether that person is standing in front of us or, worse, if we are telling tales behind their back, let’s keep in mind the example set by Joseph in this week’s Torah portion. Joseph is now more mature and more sensitive to his brothers’ feelings than when he was a tale-bearing teenager. Like Joseph, may we all have the ability to grow into the person that Torah tells us we ought to be.
Rabbi Sandra M. Bellush