The scene is an all-too-familiar one. It takes place in homes and schools, offices and shuls.
The person making the irreverent jibe or aiming the verbal barb may or may not have intended to cause the amount of damage that he or she did. But for the victim, the shame and anguish seem overwhelming, often prompting powerful feelings of anger that can last for weeks, months and even years. This, in turn, can lead to bitter disputes that shatter hearts, destroy friendships and divide families.
It is clear from Chazal that one must go to great lengths to avoid causing any sort of pain to another, and the punishment for him who publicly humiliates another is extremely severe. From Tamar, the matriarch of Malchus Beis Yehudah, we learn that “it is preferable for a person to throw himself into a fiery furnace rather than let his friend’s face turn pale [from shame] in public.”
While it is crucial for those inflicting harm — or considering it — to bear this in mind, it would benefit the victim to take a starkly different approach.
This week we learn how the Ribbono shel Olam instructed Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon Hakohen that when they go to Pharaoh, they should accord the Egyptian king honor when they speak to him.
Why, indeed, did Pharaoh, who committed such terrible crimes against Bnei Yisrael, deserve to be spoken to with honor?
The Chasam Sofer gives an answer that teaches us a very powerful and relevant lesson: If they would have been disrespectful to Pharaoh, the shame he would have experienced would have atoned for his sins, and then he wouldn’t have been deserving of the ten makkos!
Bizyonos — humiliation — is a powerful spiritual cleanser.
In his classic sefer Tomer Devorah, Harav Moshe Cordovero praises bizyonos as something one should want to receive. He points out that unlike pain caused by ailments, or fasting as a penance, humiliation doesn’t cause physical weakness that would adversely affect one’s avodas Hashem. Instead of reacting with anger, one should actually view humiliation as something to be grateful for and rejoice over.
There is another angle to consider.
In a story that was widely publicized a few years ago, an individual visiting Hagaon Harav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, broke down and began to weep bitterly. After many years of davening, beseeching Gedolim for brachos, going to kivrei tzaddikim and trying various segulos, he and his wife were still childless. He pleaded with Harav Kanievsky for a suggestion.
“Find some someone who fits the description of ‘they who suffer insults but do not inflict them,’” Harav Chaim suggested. “Ask that person for a brachah, and you will, b’ezras Hashem, be helped.”
It proved to be much more challenging than the Yid had imagined. He kept his eyes open for any sort of conflict, and even visited batei din in search of warring parties, but was unable to locate what he so urgently sought.
One evening, while attending a wedding, he witnessed a man unloading a string of nasty insults on a gentleman sitting at a nearby table. At first, the victim exhibited remarkable self-restraint and did not utter a word in response. But as the barrage of invective became ever more vicious, it appeared that the victim was finally about to retort. The childless man ran over to the victim and pleaded, “Please, do me a kindness and don’t say a word! Later, I will explain why I ask this of you.”
The victim complied and remained silent, but the belligerent party refused to give up and continued with his verbal abuse. Again and again, just as the victim seemed prepared to respond, the childless Yid pleaded with him not to, and he restrained himself.
When the abuser finally gave up, the Yid told the victim about the advice he was given and asked him for a brachah. Emotionally drained, the victim gave one. Nine months later, the couple was blessed with a child.
After this true story was publicized by Harav Yitzchak Zilberstein, shlita, in his classic sefer Aleinu L’shabei’ach, numerous other individuals in need of a yeshuah emulated this Yid, and were helped.
There is another, extremely powerful lesson that can be derived from the instructions that Hashem gave to Moshe Rabbeinu in regard to going to speak to Pharaoh.
The Midrash teaches us that when Hakadosh Baruch Hu sent Moshe to go meet the king of Egypt in the morning at the Nile, He told him that he should preempt Pharaoh before he could daven to Hashem!
Pharaoh was the epitome of evil; he had viciously persecuted Bnei Yisrael and openly mocked Hashem. Yet, if he would have davened to Hashem, his tefillah would have had a great effect — to such a degree that Hashem sought to prevent him from praying!
How much more so is the tefillah of a Yid effective, even if he has slipped from the proper path. For no tefillah is in vain, and no tefillah goes unheard.