It should not come as a surprise that I like the parasha thoughts of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Here’s a paragraph from this year’s discussion of parashat Vayeshev that I wanted to share:
[…] We, the semikhah and yeshiva students, were davenning the morning service in one of the lounges in the chateau when the Reform woman entered, wearing tallit and tefillin, and sat herself down in the middle of the group.
This is something the students had not encountered before. What were they to do? There was no mechitzah. There was no way of separating themselves. How should they react to a woman wearing tallit and tefillin and praying in the midst of a group of men? They ran up to the Rav in a state of great agitation and asked what they should do. Without a moment’s hesitation he quoted to them the saying of the sages: A person should be willing to throw himself into a furnace of fire rather than shame another person in public.
(Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: The Heroism of Tamar (Vayeshev 5775))
This is a lesson that contrasts with the seemingly never-ending news about religious Jews who throw tantrums on airplanes because they have to sit next to a woman and other such stories. A little humility, taking back oneself rather than shame another. And the worlds would be a better place. For those that like to have sources they can point to, here are those Rabbi Sacks gives:
Because Mar Zutra b. Tobiah said in the name of Rab (others state: R. Huna40 b. Bizna said in the name of R. Simeon the Pious; and others again state: R. Johanan said in the name of R. Simeon b. Yohai): Better had a man thrown himself into a fiery furnace than publicly put his neighbour to shame. Whence do we derive this? From [the action of] Tamar; for it is written in Scripture, When she was brought forth, [she sent to her father-in-law].
(Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot 67b)
R. Zutra b. Tobiah further said in the name of Rab — according to others. R. Hanah b. Bizna said it in the name of R. Simeon the Pious, and according to others again. R. Johanan said it in the name of R. Simeon b Yohai: It is better for a man that he should cast himself into a fiery furnace rather than that he should put his fellow to shame in public.13 Whence do we know this? From Tamar, of whom it says, When she was brought forth etc.
(Babylonian Talmud, Brachot 43b)