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VayeshevIn this week's parashah, we learn that Tamar was willing to be burned alive, together with the two sons she was carrying in her womb, rather than embarrass Yehudah, her father-in-law, by revealing that he was their father. The Sages learn from this that "It is better for one to throw himself into a fiery furnace rather than embarrass someone in public" (Berachos 43b).
Actually, the Hebrew word "noach," which was translated as "it is better," could more accurately be translated as "it is easier." Therefore, Reb Shalom Shvadron zt"l used to say that there is a poignant message to be learned here. When one is forced to suffer one of two painful experiences, he will surely choose the easier of the two. Similarly, if one has the choice of being burned alive or embarrassing someone, he should find it easier to choose the fire rather than, G-d forbid, embarrass another person!
Reb Shalom said, further, that we should not understand the words of the Sages as being merely figurative. Rather, we should take them literally. He related a story which was told to him by Rabbi Harvey Waxman of Monsey, NY.
One day, in Beis Medrash Elyon, Rabbi Waxman noticed the mashgiach, the great Tzaddik, Rav Yisroel Chaim Kaplan ztvk"l, sitting and crying. Rabbi Waxman rushed over to him and asked what was wrong. At first, the mashgiach was reluctant to tell him. However, after much persistence, he said the following: "Imagine, if you would see someone stab someone else to death, right here in the middle of the Beis Midrash, wouldn't you be upset? Of course you would. Well, I just saw someone embarrass his friend in public, which the Sages say is much worse than killing him! That is why I am crying."
In the fabulous sefer, Ish Lere'eihu, a story is recounted from the sefer Amud Eish.
Every Motza'ei Shabbos (Saturday night), Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin zt"l would speak about the week's parashah at his home to a group of students. All of them were served a cup of tea. Once, the servant mistakenly put salt in the Rabbi's cup, instead of sugar. To make matter's worse, the Rabbi's physical condition required him to have a lot of sugar in his tea. Consequently, the servant put in several heaping spoons of salt in the cup.
The Rabbi drank his hot tea, a little at a time, as if nothing was wrong. However, the Rebbetzin noticed the servant holding a bag of salt, when he should have been holding sugar, and immediately realized what must have happened. She rushed into the room and said to her husband, "Your cup is full of salt!"
The students tasted the tea which had spilled into the Rabbi's plate, and were amazed at his ability to drink something so distasteful without showing any signs of discomfort.
After the group dispersed, the Rebbetzin asked her husband, "You know that salt is unhealthy for you. Why were you lax to fulfill the Torah's commandment to safeguard your health?" The sweet Rabbi was surprised at her question and responded, "The Sages say, 'It is better for one to throw himself into a fiery furnace rather than embarrass someone in public.' Could I possibly embarrass the servant in front of everyone?"
Shema Yisrael Torah Network