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Embarrassing someone is tantamount to killing them, says the Talmud.

One of the classic approaches to our behavior that should guide us at all times is to avoid insulting each other. The Talmud says on a recent daf, “Kol hamalbin pnei chaveiro b’rabeem k’ilu shofech damim – Anyone who humiliates another in public, it is as though he were spilling blood” (Bava Metziah 58). The simple reading is that insulting someone in public is tantamount to murder; after a person blushes, the redness leaves his face and pallor comes in its place, sometimes literally resulting, over the years, in death by consequences of depression, descent into dungeons or prisons, duels or outright warfare.

What is not often noted is that the Talmud says that issuers of such insults are among the three categories of sinners who do not rise up from Gehinnom, even though this isn’t explicitly categorized as one of the 613 commandments, positive or negative (though it can be indirectly included in at least one of them).

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On the very next page (Bava Metziah 59), the Talmud goes so far as to say, citing King David, that “One who engages in illicit relations with a married woman, his death is by strangulation, but he still has a share in the World to Come, but one who humiliates another in public has no share in the World to Come” (although he may not get the death penalty in the world as we know it, even with witnesses and warnings, and although the Rambam says this applies only to habitual humiliators).

The significance of the gravity of the sin of humiliation is further evidenced by the Talmud then saying, in the name of no lesser an authority than Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai, “It is more comfortable (or pleasing, or better) for a person to cast himself into a fiery furnace than to humiliate another in public” (to avoid being cast into the furnace) based on the incident of Tamar and Yehudah.

What is also not often noted is that the comparison of a humiliator to a murderer is one of the only instances where a statement is made in the Talmud, and immediately corroborated without even being disputed! The Talmud says this lesson was recited before Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak, and then Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak commented, “You have spoken well.” How often does this happen in the Talmud? (Rabbis are lucky if their arguments aren’t immediately challenged or rebutted; the fact that indeed the statement is complimented adds unusual gravitas to it.)

The applications to current events may be more plentiful and powerful than ever before. On a simple direct level, there are more insults being thrown around for and against household names than ever before – without our casting judgments, it is quite apparent that people who do cast judgments are insulting the Trumps, the Bidens, the active lawyers (Alvin Bragg, Jack Smith, etc.), the disgraced lawyers (Michael Avenatti, Michael Cohen, Fani Willis, etc.), and the accusers. And what is particularly intriguing is that the accusations are not one way, but pro and con in virtually each case! The accuser is the accused as well in almost each instance.

But the applications go further. This passage in the Talmud appears in the daf that was studied on Pesach this year, and many commentators point out that when dealing with the Four Sons, the “wicked” one should not necessarily be described as wicked (an obvious form of humiliation), but should be addressed as a person who went astray (or “off the derech”) because of disinformation and/or a lack of empathy. More and more contemporary rabbis are following this approach.

In a way, the insults this year, this season, and this week, go even deeper, more so than ever before. There have been blood libels in the past, leading to pogroms seemingly from time immemorial, and Jews were accused of not living “up” to the Aryan “culture,” leading to the Holocaust, but rarely if ever before have Jews in general (let alone Israelis in particular) been accused by so many people throughout the world – not just on college campuses, where intellectuals should know better – of genocide for fighting a war of self-defense, and after having taken more steps than virtually any other army to protect innocent civilians.

Instead of “carpet-bombing” cities as was done by both sides in World War II, or nuking cities as was done by the Americans whose successors now seek to impose ceasefires on their Israeli allies, or surprise attacks like what happened on October 7th, killing and maiming so many civilians, by contrast the Israeli army gives up the element of surprise – and more – by warning civilians in advance of targeted attacks to seek shelter elsewhere, so that many Gazan civilians (especially recently in Rafah) “complain” about having moved many times to stay alive (due to the super-humanitarian warnings and other actions of the Israelis) rather than being maimed or killed by staying in the line of fire (when serving as human shields of “fighters” of Hamas).

The humiliating insults on a personal level and on a national and international level cannot possibly be more painful. The antidote is the dissemination of information by finding ways to get the truth to penetrate all too many uninformed and misinformed and closed minds in the halls of academia and in the studios of the media.

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Rabbi Aaron I. Reichelm esq., has written, edited, or supplemented various books, most notably about rabbis and community leaders in his family. But one of his most enduring memories is hearing that his grandmother who he remembers as always being in a wheelchair consistently said that her favorite English song was “Count your blessings.”