Daf Yomi Yevamos 54
Over the summer, many people pass through Edmonton en route to the Rockies. We frequently have guests staying with us for Shabbos from ‘out east’ – Toronto, Montreal, New York. We once had one such family stay with us after finding us through the website and we were sitting have Shabbos lunch with them. Also at the table were Justin and Jennifer, lovely members of the congregation who happen to have converted to Judaism many years ago. It’s been so long, though, that many people in the congregation don’t even know they’re converts.
We were enjoying a lovely Shabbos meal, when our guests began to comment on the number of converts in the congregation. I was starting to feel uneasy as they recounted how they’d sat at the kiddush in shul and met so many Jews by choice and just couldn’t believe how many we had.
“You know what the Talmud says,” the easterner suddenly quipped, “Converts are like the plague!”
Before I could get the chance to correct his insensitivity and properly explain the meaning of the Talmudic dictum (see Life Yomi Yevamos 47), I realized that Justin and Jennifer had turned white. I felt absolutely horrible that this had gone on at my own Shabbos table.
Rabba taught: One who fell from the roof and caused injury is liable to pay four types of compensation: for damage, pain, unemployment, and medical costs. However, he is not liable to pay for the embarrassment caused, for the master taught, ‘One is only liable to pay damages for embarrassment if he had intent.’
Why should you only be liable to pay for embarrassing another person if you intended to do so? Think about the other types of damages. It takes a lot of effort to injure another human being to the extent that they need to seek medical attention and take time off from work to recover.
Sadly, when it comes to embarrassing others, however, we do it all the time, without intending to. Imagine you had to pay up every time you embarrassed another individual. Most of us would be broke by now! Rabba is not teaching that it’s okay to embarrass people if you don’t intend to do it. He’s cautioning us to pay more attention to what we say to others without thinking.
Before you open your mouth, your have to ask yourself whether what you are about to say might be insensitive or embarrassing to anybody. You might think it’s just a joke and what’s the big deal. But you never know how it might strike a raw nerve in somebody else. They have had different experiences to you in life and they are might be going through things right now.
Maybe it’s a joke about ethnicity and you haven’t considered the background of the people in the room. Maybe you’re talking about having your tenth child and there are people in the room who don’t have any. Apart from the lack of sensitivity – even if you don’t know the situation, there may be others who do and the affected party will feel extremely embarrassed and uncomfortable.
Unintentional embarrassment is not limited to strangers, either. Maybe you’re sitting around at a party and you mention some silly thing your spouse does like leaving the cap off the toothpaste. You might think it’s funny, but stop and think about whether you’re embarrassing him or her. Of course s/he is your spouse and will forgive you, but do you really need to put them on the spot like that?