There are times when the stories in Tanach seem like they could be pulled straight from a tabloid headline. One such tale is that of Rachel and Leah’s wedding to Yaakov. Consider the following caption: Wedding Deception: Tricked Man Marries the Wrong Sister!
We know the story well: Yaakov worked for seven years to marry the love of his life, Rachel. The blissful couple were concerned that Rachel’s father, Lavan, would try to switch the sisters at the last minute. Therefore, Yaakov and Rachel developed signs of recognition to share with one another to ensure he would recognize Rachel’s true identity.
Lavan does end up switching the sisters, trading Leah for Rachel. Rachel, on her wedding day, watches while her sister is wearing her dress, about to marry her groom. Most women in Rachel’s shoes would be fuming, eagerly waiting for their man to realize the bride by his side does not know the predetermined sign. Rachel, however, pulls her sister aside in advance of the wedding and gives Leah the signal so she can marry Yaakov without being humiliated publicly as a fraud.
Why would Rachel foil her own plan?
Most people view their sister as separate from themselves. We love our sisters, but we are different people. However, Rachel viewed her sister as an extension of herself. She felt her pain and joy like it was her own. Rachel could not bring herself to embarrass her sister Leah, and gave her the signs out of pure compassion.
Think about the greatness of Rachel: she did not have a Chumash in front of her to open up and say, “It will all work out in the end. I’ll marry him myself in a few pages.” Rather, at that moment, she truly believed she was giving up her soulmate for Leah.
Can you imagine refraining from embarrassing another when your own shidduch was at stake?
What really strikes me about Rachel’s greatness is that the person she was saving from embarrassment was her own sister. Sadly, it is often family members whom we treat with the least respect, and embarrass more than others. Somehow, we go to great lengths not to embarrass strangers or friends, but when it comes to family members, we are not nearly as careful.
Another common pitfall is overlooking someone’s feelings in favor of being meticulous about religious observance. There is a story about a family that hosted a Friday night meal with a table set beautifully by the woman of the house. All seemed well until the host picked up the kiddush cup to say the bracha, then realized the challot were not covered, as is traditionally done while the bracha over wine is said.
He lost his temper with his wife and said accusingly, “How could you forget?”
She responded calmly, “I’m so sorry, I guess it just slipped my mind. I must be more tired than I realized.”
Irate, he replied, “Well, what are you standing here for? Go get the cover!” Through his words and tone he berated, disrespected and embarrassed her.
If we understand the meaning behind covering the challah, the scene appears even more uncalled for.
The reason we cover the challot with a beautiful cloth during Kiddush is that usually grains are given priority over grapes when it comes to blessing preference. On Shabbos, however, we bless the wine first. In order not to “embarrass” the challot, we cover them with a beautiful cloth. Of course, challot are not human, and do not actually have feelings. Yet, this custom serves as a metaphor to teach us about sensitivity – the challah should not “see” the wine being blessed first so that they will not feel bad. Likewise, we should always be sensitive to the feelings of others, and treat people with dignity and respect.
Moreover, if we respect inanimate objects like challot, how much more so should we respect a person, made in the image of G-d? It is important to make every effort to prevent embarrassment in all circumstances. How ironic that this man chose to yell at his wife and embarrass her over that specific mitzvah!
Here are three ideas to help sensitize ourselves and protect the dignity of those we love.
- In the spirit of Leah and Rachel, we too can use codes with our loved ones when things begin to escalate. Try creating a secret phrase to use with your children so they won’t be embarrassed in front of their siblings or guests. Rather than yelling, “Go to your room!” try something like, “Hey Simcha, can you go open your bedroom window for me?” This lets them know it’s time to step away and calm down. These codes can also work between spouses. If you feel your spouse is undermining you, rather than objecting in front of your children, you can simply say, “Hey hun, I’m blowing you a kiss!” Translation: Please be mindful of how you speak to me in front of the children.
- Don’t discipline in front of extended family or guests. Once over Pesach, I saw my sister-in-law’s child acting out in front of everyone. Rather than yelling at the child publicly, my sister-in-law took her to another room, and came back with her when things were calm. No one else needed to know what’s going on with that particular child (including nosy siblings). Sometimes, one of my children will ask, “What happened?” with regards to a situation with another sibling. My response is, “This is a private matter for me to discuss with Nava.” Lashon hara includes speaking about our children to others or their siblings. This also includes sharing stories about our children at a Shabbos table. Make sure you check in with them first to be certain they are comfortable being the subject of conversation, rather than turning them into Shabbos table fodder for your own enjoyment.
- Accidents happen. Even in the most organized and clean houses, someone will knock over their cup of juice every once in a while. Shaming our children will not stop them from repeating such an accident. The best course of action is to either ignore the spill and wipe it up later, or try to make light of the situation. Something along the lines of, “I do that all the time,” will make the situation so much easier, rather than embarrassing our children and making them feel that they have done something wrong.
Although we may not be at the sensitivity level of Rachel Imeinu, we can certainly take baby steps to be more aware, and prevent embarrassing others, particularly those whom we love most. That extra level of consideration will ultimately lead to a more beautiful, respectful, and harmonious home.