The verse in this week’s Torah reading states (6:13), “And God spoke to
Moses and Aaron, and He commanded them upon the sons of Israel and upon
Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, to take the sons of Israel out of Egypt.” What exactly
was this command about? Rashi tells us that this was a special command
throughout the process of the exodus to lead the Jews with grace and patience,
and to speak to Pharaoh with royal respect. We can well understand the need
to lead the Jews in a courteous manner. But why in the world are they instructed
specifically to treat Pharaoh with utmost respect? Pharaoh was a wicked tyrant,
who brutally enslaved and tortured the Jewish Nation for many years. Why is he
deserving of any honor at all?
The Chassam Sofer offers an astonishing answer. God had in mind to
afflict Pharaoh and the Egyptians with the ten plagues for their wickedness. If
Moses were to talk to Pharaoh in a disrespectful manner, the pain of the insult
may atone for his sins and he no longer would be deserving of being afflicted by
the plagues! In order to ensure Pharaoh remained deserving of future
retribution, God asked Moses to make sure to speak to him with respect
befitting a king. This is the power of humiliation.
The Tomer Devorah takes this concept further (chapter 2), and advises us
regarding shame: “A person should always think about his sins and be satisfied
with being purified through pain, and say to himself, ‘What is the best form of
pain that won’t detract from my service of God? There is no better pain than
enduring humiliation, disgrace and insults, since this will not hinder his strength
nor his health, and it doesn’t detract from his food and clothing, nor will it curtail
his life or the life of his children.'” The Tomer Devorah continues to say how
shame should be a source of excitement, for it is the best form of pain one can
endure. If one needs to suffer to atone for his misdeeds, this is the best way to
have it done.
Rabbi Mendel of Permishlan once held a Seudas Hoda’ah, a banquet to
thank the Almighty for the good fortune he experienced. People were surprised
to hear about the celebration, since no one heard of any recent salvation or
miracle which would call for such an occasion, and they expressed their

bewilderment aloud. Rabbi Mendel revealed to them the cause of celebration:
“Someone recently humiliated me severely. I am celebrating my
embarrassment!” This explanation did not satisfy their puzzled minds. “We
understand that you may be happy about your achievement of accepting the
pain with love,” they said, “but who ever heard about making a Seudas Hoda’ah
for something like that?” “You don’t understand,” he said to them, “when
Heaven decrees upon someone to turn ill, if he has proper merits, he will
experience humiliation in exchange for suffering a dreadful disease. The
humiliation I experienced was very painful. If not for that experience, in all
likelihood, I would have gotten sick and remained that way for a while. After
recuperating, I would have celebrated with a Seudas Hoda’ah. Now, as a result
of my embarrassment, I don’t need to endure illness at all. Does this not call for
a Seudas Hoda’ah?!”
No one enjoys being humiliated. Shame is extremely painful. But that’s
precisely the point. The pain of humiliation has unique power for atonement for
one’s sins in a most preferred manner (relative to other forms of suffering). We
all experience the pain of shame at points in our lives, and our natural reaction
is to resent these situations immensely. We fail to realize just how precious
these experiences are. In light of this new recognition of the power of
humiliation, we can change our attitude towards such situations when they
occur. Instead of focusing on our anguish, we should think to ourselves, “If a
person as wicked as Pharaoh could have had his sins atoned for with a little
disrespect in lieu of suffering ten most devastating plagues, who knows how
much suffering is being alleviated from me in exchange for a little humiliation?”
(Needless to say, as valuable as humiliation may be for the recipient, it is a great
sin to intentionally humiliate another person, and it should be avoided at all
costs.)

Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber

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