In this week's Torah portion, we learn the famous Ten Commandments that God gave us on Mt. Sinai. One of these is not to murder. Thankfully, most normal people would never consider murdering anyone, yet our sages teach that to publicly humiliate someone -- or 'murder' their reputation -- is so harmful that it is, in a way, almost as destructive as actually murdering them. Therefore, we should be super careful not to embarrass others.
In our story, a kid has to decide whether or not to destroy another kid's pride.
"Okay, guys. We'll be there in about an hour and a half. I want every one of you kids to behave, or else." Kevin, the teacher's assistant sternly warned as the bus taking Marc and his classmates on their school trip pulled out of the school parking lot.
Though the trip had barely started, Marc had already heard more than enough from this bossy Kevin. True he was two grades older than they were, but did that give him the right to order them around treat them like babies?
"Slide over, kid. I'm taking the window seat -- assistant's privilege." Marc turned to face the voice and groaned. Of all the seats on the bus, Kevin had decided to sit right next to him! The boy begrudgingly moved over. He'd already taken out his camera and had planned to take a lot of pictures of the passing scenery through the bus window, but now he'd just have to sit there like a dummy next to this guy who thought he was so cool.
The trip went along and as they were about to pass by a famous waterfall, Marc decided to ask Kevin if he could at least switch seats with him for a minute so he could get one good picture. As he turned, he got a big surprise -- the obnoxious bigger kid had fallen asleep and was sucking his thumb like a toddler!
Forgetting about the waterfall, Marc pulled out his digital camera and took a couple of choice photos of this hilarious scene. He could hardly wait until the next rest stop, when he'd show these embarrassing pics around to the rest of the class. Kevin would never be able to live them down -- or be able to act like a boss over them again…
"Okay, guys -- you've got exactly five-minutes before everyone has to be back to the bus. I hope you all know how to tell time!" Kevin chortled as the kids piled off at the rest stop. Marc smiled to himself, knowing that was the last put-down that kid was going to make. The secret picture he took of him would kill his 'cool guy' reputation and put him in his place once and for all.
Most of the class had gathered in front of the drink stand and Marc -- camera in hand -- began jogging over their way. He couldn't wait to…WHOA!... Suddenly, stepping on a patch of ice, his feet slipped out from underneath him and he found himself flat on his face, sprawled out like a rag doll.
As he stood up and brushed himself off Marc was happy he was okay, but even happier that none of the kids had seen him fall. They'd have had a good laugh at his expense, and he would have felt totally embarrassed and foolish.
He checked his camera to make sure his fall hadn't caused the precious pictures to get erased. Nope, Kevin's 'baby picture' was still on the screen. Marc marched closer to the group, but surprisingly felt his feet slowing down. Is this really okay? he thought to himself. If I was just so happy no one saw me take that embarrassing fall -- everyone seeing Kevin sucking his thumb is going to embarrass him a hundred times as much. With each step Marc took, the idea of putting Kevin in his place was starting to feel less heroic and more just plain hurtful. True, Kevin was obnoxious, but did that justify humiliating him like this?
"Hey, Marc, cool-looking camera, man. You got any good shots of the trip so far?" asked his friend Ron as Marc reached to the group. The boy took a deep breath.
"Nah, nothing yet." he said. Nothing -- Marc thought to himself -- except for those two pictures he'd just permanently deleted, saving Kevin his reputation and saving himself from doing something very wrong.
Q. How did Marc feel at first about showing the embarrassing pictures?
A. He felt it was okay and the Kevin deserved it.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. After his fall, Marc realized how much it hurts to get embarrassed and didn't want to do it to anyone else.
Q. What life-lesson do you think Marc learned that day?
A. When he caught Kevin in an embarrassing position, his first though was to use it to knock the kid down -- then he realized that humiliating someone is no joke, but rather a very serious and extremely harmful thing to do -- and thankfully he stopped himself in time.
Q. What should a person do if he sees someone in an embarrassing situation?
A. If there is any way he can help, without embarrassing the person further, he should. Otherwise, he should simply turn or walk away and act as if he'd never seen it.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Our sages compare humiliating someone with murdering them. How can you understand these harsh terms?
A. A human being is more than just his physical body. Each person also has thoughts and emotions that are just as real as his body. When a person gets humiliated, true, his body may live on, but inside, even if he doesn't show it, he has just suffered a devastating blow that could cause him intense pain for the rest of his life. Who would want to be responsible for doing that to someone?
Q. Do you think it is ever justified to publicly embarrass another person?
A. While in general it is certainly wrong, if there is someone whose improper conduct or values may seriously endanger those around him and more subtle methods won't get him to stop, there are times that embarrassing him into stopping or to prevent others from being influenced by him may be in order. But these cases are few and far between.