Category Archives: Tzav

Embarrassing situations

Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying, ‘This is the law of the sin offering: The sin offering shall be slaughtered before the Lord in the place where the burnt offering is slaughtered. It is a holy of holies’. (Leviticus 6:18)

The prohibition not to embarrass another person is hinted to in many places in the Torah. The Talmud cites in particular, the story of Yehudah (Judah) and Tamar (Genesis 38) which demonstrates the lengths one should go to in order to avoid embarrassing others (Bava Metsia, 58a-59b).

The Torah includes an important lesson in the verse cited above. The burnt offering was brought primarily as a voluntary offering or as part of a communal offering. A sin offering however, is brought uniquely as part of the atonement for errant behaviour.

The Talmud teaches us that G-d ruled that both offerings should be brought in the same place to avoid embarrassing the sinner (Sotah 32b). If a person’s sin offering had to be brought in a special place, it would be obvious that that person had done something wrong. By having both offerings brought in the same place, no one would know if his offering was for a sin, or simply a burnt offering brought voluntarily.

Similarly, since we no longer have a temple, our prayers must replace the offerings. The Talmud explains that the reason we read the Amidah (standing prayer also known as the shemoneh esrei) silently, is so that those who wish to confess sinful behaviour before G-d can do so without embarrassing themselves.

Other examples include the Mishnah’s exhortation not to gaze at another person during his moment of ruin (Ethics of our Fathers 4:23). For example, one should stop people from crowding round and staring at someone who is being attended to by the emergency services. Similarly it is inappropriate to stare at someone who has made a mistake in public or who has become angry.

It is not only prohibited to embarrass others, but we must also go out of our way to avoid making a bad situation worse.

The thanksgiving offering

And the meat of his thanksgiving peace offering shall be eaten on the day it is offered up; he shall not leave any of it over until morning. Leviticus 7:15

The thanksgiving offering was brought by someone who had (for example) survived great danger, escaped captivity or recovered from a grave illness. The offering was accompanied by forty loaves of four different types of bread (Leviticus 7:12, Menachos 77b). This resulted in an enormous amount of food which had to be eaten on the day that the offering was brought.

It was therefore essential that someone who was obligated to offer thanks to God in this manner invited others to partake of the offering. In turn, this gave the ‘host’ the opportunity to share and publicise their gratitude to God with friends and relatives.

Rabbi Aryeh Leib ben Asher Gunzberg (d. 1785) in his magnum opus Shaagas Aryeh explains that the requirement to consume the entire offering in one day also teaches us that the blessings God bestows upon us are not reserved for happy occasions, but are ever-present and benefit us every day.

It is natural to want to share the happiest events in our lives with our friends and family. Whether we are celebrating the birth of a child, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah or a Wedding, we publicise our gratitude to God by sharing our simcha (happiness) with others.

Nevertheless, we must be mindful and grateful for even the simplest of blessings which often go unnoticed in the daily humdrum, but are nonetheless there; the blossoming of the trees in springtime, the laughter of our children and grandchildren, the constant, unconditional love of our families. If we could slow down a little from time to time, we would begin to appreciate the myriad of blessings which envelope us and carry us through each day of our lives.


A version of this article first appeared in the Jewish Chronicle.