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“Now Yosef could not restrain himself in the presence of all who stood before him, so he called out, ‘Remove everyone from before me!’ Thus no one remained with him when Yosef made himself known to his brothers” (Bereishis 45:1). Rashi explains that Yosef could not bear that the Egyptians should stand by him witnessing how his brothers would be put to shame when he made himself known to them.
The Torah is very strict in demanding that we never cause anyone any embarrassment. Indeed, Chazal taught (Bava Metzia 59a) that one who shames someone in public has no part in the World-to-Come. Although Yosef had been wrongly hurt by his brothers, and although he was about to reveal himself to them as one who did not take revenge and repaid them kindness for their evil; nevertheless, he did not rationalize by saying that they brought this upon themselves and should reap the fruits of their labor. He was very careful to assure that they do not suffer any unnecessary discomfort or humiliation.
This is the way of true tzaddikim who go in the ways of Hashem.
Reb Shalom Shvadron zt”l, once eulogized the Rosh Yeshiva of Beis Midrash Govoha, in Lakewood, New Jersey, Reb Shneur Kotler zt”l, who was an extremely modest person, and said that he was a gaon (genius) in middos tovos (good character). Rabbi Pesach Krohn, author of The Maggid Speaks and several other wonderful books, records a beautiful story about Reb Shneur.
The Rosh Yeshiva felt obligated to attend a certain wedding in New York, although he had to attend a very important meeting in Lakewood that evening. Therefore, he asked his driver to be ready to return him to his destination the very second the chuppah would end. The driver complied and brought the car to the door of the hall to be able to whisk the Rabbi away as soon as he stepped out. Much to his surprise, though, the ceremony was long over, but Reb Shneur had not yet emerged. The driver assumed that Rav Kotler must have met someone important who was holding him up, and, curious, he went to the door to see who it was. To his great surprise, he saw the Rosh Yeshiva simply mingling among the family and guests, wishing mazel tov to all.
After a while, Reb Shneur came out and reminded his driver again that he was in a tremendous hurry, and that he be ready to “fly” to Lakewood as soon as he finished some important business he had to attend to inside. The driver watched the Rosh Yeshiva return to the hall and continue to greet the people who had come to the wedding; but he couldn’t determine what was so important about what Reb Shneur was doing, especially when he was in such a rush.
Finally, the Rabbi came into the car and begged the driver to get him to the meeting as soon as possible. Understanding the driver’s bewilderment, the Gaon in middos tovos explained his actions. “The family had a lot of respectable guests,” said Reb Shneur, “and they could not give me a prominent honor. Personally, I couldn’t care less, but I was afraid that if I left immediately after the chuppah, they might misinterpret my hasty departure as a protest for the slight to my pride. This would upset their simchah, chas veshalom. Therefore, although I’m in such a rush, I felt an obligation to stay there for awhile, and wish everyone mazel tov, so that they not feel the slightest bit uncomfortable! But now we have to try our best to get to the important meeting in time.”
A similar story is told about Harav Hatzaddik Reb Yosef Chaim Zonenfeld zt”l. He was preparing to attend a wedding where it was known that another rabbi would be getting a bigger honor than he. His children and students were concerned that this was an insult to their loved one and tried to persuade him not to go, but to no avail; the Rabbi insisted on going. Frustrated, they asked him why he was being so atypically stubborn. Full of kindness, Rav Zonenfeld explained.
“I once attended a wedding. One of the rabbis who was there was not given the honor he had anticipated. Offended, the rabbi stormed out of the wedding hall in protest. Everyone was shocked and the bride and groom and their families were very upset. Seeing what had happened, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at a person who was so low and arrogant, that he put his own pride before the feelings of a newlywed couple.”
Staring at his admirers with his heavenly blue eyes, Reb Yosef Chaim concluded emphatically, “So what do you want me to do tonight? Laugh at myself?!”
When I attended the Mesivta Rabbeinu Ya’akov Yosef, (Rabbi Jacob Josef School) in New York, I had the privilege to learn by Rabbi Varshavchik zt”l, who was very concerned for other people’s feelings. When a chosson (groom) would invite him to his wedding and promise him an honor, the Rabbi would reply, “Your intention is to show me honor. Just by telling me about it, is, indeed, an honor in itself. Thank you very much. I greatly appreciate it. Now, at your wedding, give it to someone who really needs it!”
Let’s learn from tzaddikim to be sensitive to other’s feelings and certainly never to embarrass anyone. Then we’ll be happy in this world and the World-to-Come.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network