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Tzav(Leviticus 6-8)

Saving Others Embarrassment

For many years my wife worked in Jerusalem as a volunteer collecting and distributing clothing to the poor.Experience had taught her that it was too embarrassing for the poor to simply receive a "hand-out." Instead, often the clothes would be "sold" for quite nominal sums, freeing the beneficiaries of shame.

My wife also discovered that the condition of the clothing was critical. The poor people were far more sensitive to the way their clothing looked than an average, middle class family. Often, nice clothes would be rejected by the people because it did not appear brand new. I believe this was also due to their underlying feeling of embarrassment.

The Torah, in discussing the "sin offerings" to be brought to the Temple, shows great sensitivity to the feelings of the poor. The Torah permits each person to bring an offering according to his or her means. For example, a wealthy person could bring a bull, while a poor person could bring a flour offering.

But wouldn't it have been simpler for the Torah to simply suggest that everyone bring flour offerings?

In actuality, there was a great benefit in bringing an animal offering, for those who could afford to do so. First of all, it gave the wealthy an opportunity to give what they felt was a significant gift to the Almighty. More importantly, there was a tremendous psychological device associated with the sacrifices.When a person brought certain animal offerings, he would confess his sin while placing his hands on the animal. Then he would watch the animal being slaughtered. It was this stark emotional experience that would hopefully deter the person from sinning again.

Given this, the problem remained how to alleviate the embarrassment of the less fortunate when bringing their flour offerings. What the Torah does, in fact, is go out of its way to change its phraseology concerning the offerings of the poor. In all other instances, the Torah speaks the one bringing an offering as a "person." But the Torah refers to the one who brings a flour offering as a "soul."

The Talmud says that this change in terminology shows that in God's eyes, it is not the value of the offering that counts, but rather the intention behind it. Because the poor person may live from day-to-day not knowing where his next meal is coming from, it may well be that the flour offering of the poor was greater than the rich person's bull.

* * *

There's a basic question we should be asking? If the Torah is so sensitive to potential embarrassment, then how is it that everyone - whether rich or poor - brought a "sin offering" to the Temple? The activities in the Temple were a public event! So wouldn't everyone automatically know that they were bringing a "sin offering" offering because they'd transgressed?

To minimize this potential embarrassment, the Torah prescribes that all "sin offerings" be slaughtered in the same location as the "burnt offering" - which was brought primarily as a voluntary offering, and thus lacked any negative connotations. Therefore, when a spectator would see a sin offering being brought, it would be unclear whether this was a sin or burnt offering. In this way, the transgressor would be spared embarrassment.

As in so many places, in both bold and subtle ways, the Torah emphasizes to us the importance of never causing another person the pain of embarrassment.

Published: January 12, 2000

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Visitor Comments: 5

(4) Anonymous, March 12, 2014 6:46 PM

Great!

This is really great! Thank you so much for posting it!

(3) E. S. Carroll, October 9, 2013 10:45 AM

Thanks & hi from VA

Very nice article. Looking for examples to keep 6th graders from embarrassing each other by mockery and teasing. these are sensitive descriptions of the Torah's intent.

Also, greetings from Norfolk, VA. You're reaching us here, too. (I'm Lenny B's sister; know you from many years ago.) Regards to your wife and in-laws, too.

(2) Miriam Leah, March 27, 2012 12:24 AM

I stand in line at the food bank...

It's so hard for me to receive help for food and clothing that my sons and I need since our family has been dealing with huge health bills. At first I wanted to explain that I used to donate to the places that I know receive from. I wanted to explain our situation to the people who looked at me as I thanked them for food. It is humiliating and I did without much before I finally realized this is what I need to do for the family. I will try my best to retain my dignity when a friend of mine, volunteering at the food bank, turns away quickly when she recognizes me and sees that I am not volunteering there. The worst is feeling that fellow Jews look down on us. The illness in the family is my husband's. We want to keep our privacy for as long as possible. The health bills are catastrophic. Please don't turn away when you see me. this makes me feel much worse. A kind word helps more than anything.

Anonymous, March 28, 2012 5:24 AM

Take Heart

Take heart, Miriam. So many are in your situation, and too many more soon will. This is what I tell my kids: We gave when we could, and now we accept help when we need it, and that's the way the world should work. I'm so sorry for your difficulties, and will keep you in my prayers. I know you want to keep your privacy as long as possible, it is your right to control what you tell people about yourself. But perhaps you might think of starting to tell some trusted people about the difficulties you are facing. You don't need to carry your burden alone. Everyone who reads your comment is already carrying some part of it for you now. Many blessings.

(1) norman willis, April 1, 2001 12:00 AM

thank you

Thank you for your article.

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