Don't Embarrass Me

June 23, 2009

6 min read


Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22 )

It is fine to express our thoughts and feelings about things. But it is very important to think before speaking and make sure that our words won't embarrass or offend anyone else. The Torah relates that when Moses, the great Jewish leader, knew that his life was drawing to an end, he realized that it was his duty to speak to the Nation of Israel. He wanted to inspire the people he had led for forty years to face what the future would bring as well as to remind them of their past mistakes so that they wouldn't repeat them. Yet Moses was very careful not to mention any of these mistakes straight out in a way that could embarrass anyone. Rather he tactfully hinted in a way that would get his point across as painlessly as possible. The Torah is teaching us here how important it is to be sensitive to the feelings of others and do whatever we can never to embarrass anyone.


In our story a girl makes a right choice and refrains from embarrassing someone else.


It was a special "beach day" in summer camp.

Tammy's group and girls from three other bunks had all come together at a nearby beach for a day of swimming and socializing. It was perfect beach weather too. Sunny, but breezy. The water was warm but refreshing.

After a fun picnic lunch and a rest under the shady palm trees the kids all got up to play a game of volleyball. Tammy and another girl, Jan, were chosen as team captains and asked to pick out two teams. Naturally each captain tried to pick out the most talented girls to ensure that her team would come out the winner.

Jan picked first and chose Cindy, whom she knew to be a good volleyball player. Next it was Tammy's turn to pick. She noticed a tall athletic-looking girl from another bunk who looked like she would make a perfect volleyball star. "I'll take you," she said, pointing to the girl whose name she didn't know. But instead, Gail, the short, slightly overweight girl, who had been standing next to the tall girl, started coming forward. Immediately, Tammy realized there had been a terrible mistake.

Tammy was about to speak up and send the girl back into the line-up. Then she noticed the shine in Gail's eyes as she approached. "She probably never gets picked first for these games," Tammy thought.

Tammy realized how embarrassed the poor girl would be to have to go back in line. "I can't hurt her like that," thought Tammy, deciding to say nothing and let Gail stay on the team.

The rest of the teams were chosen and the game began. Everyone was really getting into it and having a great time. At one point Jan jumped up and spiked the ball in Tammy's direction. Tammy dove for it and the two team captains collided, ending up sprawled out in the sand. They looked at each other and laughed.

As the girls got up and brushed off the sand, Jan bent over and said quietly to her friend, "Tell me the truth Tammy, there's no way you chose Gail first to be on your team. I thought I clearly saw you pointing to the tall girl next to her. Did you really choose Gail or didn't you?"

Tammy picked up the volleyball and tossed it over the net to the girl waiting to serve. She turned to Jan, smiled shyly and said, "The truth is I chose ... not to embarrass someone and hurt her feelings. For me that was clearly the first choice."


Ages 3-5

Q. How would Gail have felt had Tammy made her go back in line?
A. She would have felt really embarrassed. She would have realized that she had made the mistake of thinking she was picked when she wasn't.

Q. Should we say something if we know it will hurt someone's feelings?
A. Usually, if what we say is going to hurt or embarrass someone, it's better not to say it.

Ages 6 and 9

Q. What do we do if we have no choice but to say something that could potentially hurt someone's feelings, for example, if a certain friend invites us over and we just don't want to go?
A. There are two parts to anything we say: what we say and how we say it. There can be times when we have no choice but to say something that will be unpleasant for someone to hear. Still, even then, we can choose to speak with tact, and in a positive and considerate way. Often people appreciate this and react much better than they might otherwise.

Q. Imagine someone who is extra sensitive and gets embarrassed by things that wouldn't bother most people. Must we go out of our way to treat them extra carefully, or can we just treat them like everybody else? Why?
A. In truth, everybody has their own level of sensitivity. There is no objective measure. What will cause one person to laugh could make another person cry. Since our goal is to be kind and not hurt people, we should strive to deal with everybody in a way that will be pleasant for them. If we can learn to be so tactful and sensitive to others that we don't even hurt the "easily hurt," we have accomplished a great thing.

Ages 10 and Up

Q. In your opinion, does one have the right to express himself however he wishes, regardless of the effect it will have on others? Why or why not?
A. Freedom of speech and expression is a valuable right for which we should be grateful. We can show how much we value this right by using it wisely. Responsible and spiritually developed people will carefully consider their words and use the gift of speech to bring good feelings to the people around them. Freedom of speech should really be viewed as a freedom to choose words carefully and not as a license to harm or embarrass other people.

Q. The sages equate embarrassing someone to killing him. Why do you think this is so?
A. A sense of dignity is very important for most human beings. When we embarrass another person, it is as if we robbed that person of his or her humanity. For the moment, the person wishes he didn't exist. The Torah wants to teach us to take the feelings of others very, very seriously. If we are careful with this, we will be giving those around us a gift as precious as life itself.


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