Embarrassment hurts, and how we treat someone when he is in an embarrassing situation makes all the difference. In this week's portion, Noah found himself in an embarrassing situation and the Torah praises two of his sons for who tried to help him save face and chastises the third son for trying to embarrass him further. The Torah teaches us to do what we can to save people from getting embarrassed and certainly never purposely embarrass anyone.
In our story some kids see how to act - and not act - when we know someone's feeling embarrassed.
Shari had a lot of talents, but one thing she couldn't do was sing. Not only couldn't she carry a tune, she couldn't even pick one up off the ground. She even has a memory of trying to sing a song when she was 3 years old. Sitting with her family at the supper table, she started singing for her family a rousing rendition of the song she'd learned that day in kindergarten. Instead of the happy smiles she'd expected, her parents and older sisters just put their forks down and stared at her oddly. From that day on, by unspoken agreement, she told her family funny stories instead.
Ten years later, Shari, now 13, found herself thinking of that dismal event as she stood facing an extremely uncomfortable situation in the middle of her friend's birthday party. Her #1 class competitor, Rosalyn, had just thrown down a vicious challenge.
"C'mon Shari," she jeered. "How about a song for the birthday girl? We all know how much you love to sing!"
Somehow Rosalyn had discovered her weakness and had decided to use this public moment to embarrass her with it. Shari stood, speechless, trying to figure out how to extricate herself from this mess without hurting the birthday girl's feelings.
"Oh, I don't know anything good by heart. 'Happy Birthday' is so corny. So I'll just pass this time around, okay?" she said with a pasted on smile, hoping everyone would just move on.
"Nothing doing," said Rosalyn in that taunting way she had. "We're not taking no for an answer. How about that song we all learned the other day, in music class? For sure you remember that one, don't you?"
Shari groaned quietly. Everyone was looking at her expectantly, unaware of the silent duel taking place between her and Rosalyn. It really looked like there was no way out. How was she ever going to live it down?
'Here goes nothing,' thought Shari. "Okay" she said.
Shari shut her eyes tight, stepped forward a little bit to stall for time. She felt like she was getting ready to jump out of a plane without a parachute. She was just about to open her mouth, when suddenly, she heard some movement and throat clearing going on behind her and felt something on her shoulders.
As if on cue, Janet and Sue, Shari's two best friends - who knew how embarrassed she felt about singing - had quickly moved next to her, threw their arms around her and started singing the song loudly. If she'd wanted to, Shari could've just moved her lips, and no one would have known the difference. But she didn't. She joined in heartily, so grateful to them for rescuing her from her embarrassment.
Q. How did Shari feel when Rosalyn asked her to sing?
A. She felt very embarrassed because she didn't sing well.
Q. How did she feel when Janet and Sue started singing with her?
A. She felt great because they saved her from being embarrassed.
Q. How would you compare Rosalyn's behavior with Janet's and Sue's?
A. Rosalyn did something very unkind. She purposely tried to humiliate Shari by exposing one of her weaknesses. Janet and Sue, on the other hand, not only didn't do that, but by singing with Shari and drowning out her voice they actively saved her from embarrassment.
Q. Can you think of some ways we can be careful not to embarrass people?
A. For one thing, we shouldn't ask them a question if we know they won't know the answer. Also, we shouldn't bring up unflattering incidents from their past or embarrassing things about their family, etc. even if they are true. We shouldn't call people nicknames or make jokes about them even if they're funny. The general rule is not to do something to someone we wouldn't want others to do to us.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Is it ever acceptable to embarrass someone in jest for the sake of a good joke?
A. A healthy sense of humor is important and has many benefits. However the form of humor that involves embarrassing others - even slightly and even if they seem not to mind - is actually a hidden form of cruelty and should never be used.
Q. Our sages compare purposely embarrassing someone to murdering them. How do you understand this strong statement?
A. A person's self-image and their desire to be respected by others is an essential part of their identity. To embarrass someone and cause him to feel bad about himself and/or others to look down on him is to have wounded him to the core and this is akin to murder.