Recognize, if you please, who are this signet, this wrap, and this staff (Bereishis 38:25)
Rashi: From this they (our Rabbis) said, “It is better for a person to be cast into a fiery furnace than to embarrass his fellow in public.”
Reb Leib Chasman, the mashgiach of Chevron Yeshiva, asks “Why do Chazal use the word ׳נוח׳ (it is better) rather than give us a directive, such as “one is obligated to cast oneself into a fire rather than embarrass his fellow man”?
This week, I was approached by a man—let’s call him Reuven—who had just received a gift from his friend Shimon. When Shimon gave him the gift, Reuven understood that Shimon wanted him to do something, even though Shimon never expressed this as a condition. During the course of time, Reuven no longer wanted to uphold the unspoken part of the deal. He came to me and asked if Jewish Law compelled him to uphold Shimon’s original wishes. He repeated how the terms were never discussed verbally before the transaction was executed, giving Reuven a very strong case to legally ignore any further obligations which may—or may not—be upon him.
I explained to Reuven that there is a concept in the Torah obligating one to appreciate the good that is given to him. This obligation to recognize the good comes in addition to any written or verbal agreement. Reuven then countered that he was under no obligation to be extra thankful to Shimon for the present, since he in any case planned to buy the exact item for himself.
I tried to explain Reuven’s fallacious argument with the following allegory: Imagine you finished your morning at work, and planned to come home for a quick lunch before your meeting on the other side of town. On the menu was lachmania, chummus and a bag of choco (or for you Americans, that would be PB&J on bread with a glass of milk). Unbeknownst to you, your wife stayed home that day in order to surprise you with lunch and prepared a veritable feast (at least, compared to the PB&J) of chicken, potatoes, beans and fresh-squeezed juice! You are still in a rush to get out, so you quickly eat the meal your wife prepared, bentsch, say “Good-bye” and then walk out to your meeting. But before walking through the door, your wife asks “Aren’t you going to say ‘thank you’ for the lunch?” Stumped by this non-sequitur, you reply to your wife “I was planning to eat my lachmania for lunch—and would have been very happy with that. Why do I need to thank you?”
Sometimes I wonder how is it that people do not stop and think about what they say and do. The answer is because we are all pre-occupied, and we therefore do not have time to realize the obvious.
Getting back to our original question, the Mashgiach of Chevron answers that Chazal are telling us that we must STOP what we are doing and feel for another person. If we were to implement this into our lives and take time to reflect on the feelings of others, we would realize that it is better to feel the pain of the fiery furnace than the pain caused by embarrassment.
The poskim tell us that when we sit at our Chanukah seuda, we should have divrei Hallel Vihoda’a to Hashem. Here to, it is our obligation—not just to light the menorah and speak about the miracle, but to take the time and effort to really think about, connect and reflect what this means to us.