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Who are you?

By Rabbi Jonathan Tawil
January 5, 2017

It wasn’t long ago that the most popular figure in the news was none other than the 45th American President Donald Trump.

A few months ago he went on a campaigning trail in Miami. He entered an old age home and met with a 92 year old lady. As he approached her he said “Lady, do you know who I am?”

She answered, “No, who are you?”

He was shocked. “You don’t know who I am?”

“Look at me. I am tall, handsome, great hair do, energetic, intelligent, making America great again. Look at me. Who am I?”

The old lady responded bewildered. “Sorry son, I don’t know who you are.”

Then he went into a fit.

“You don’t know who I am? Everyone in the world knows I am. Tell me who I am?”

“Sorry sir, I don’t know.” She quietly replied.

Another old lady, 89 years old came over to him, tapped him on his back and said,

“Sir, Relax, Relax! I will call in the head nurse…..She …..will tell you who you are!”

She smiled towards Donald and said “This happens very often around here, people forget who they are.”

Donald Trump, the outsider against all odds, polls and predictions was elected to become the 45th president of the United States.

What many people don’t know is what instigated him to make such a bold move from businessman to president.

According to a widely shared New York Times article what clinched his decision to run for president came about in April 2011.

There was an annual Whitehouse correspondence dinner where media correspondence and business personalities  gathered to enjoy an evening with President Obama. Traditionally the President gives a humorous address.

Mr Trump a successful businessman at the time attended the dinner.

The President arose to speak and began to target Mr Trump in his first joke. He continued to relate joke after joke regarding Mr Trump. At first Mr Trump laughed them away, but as it started to grind in, surrounded by 1000 top correspondence and world media, his posture showed that he was not having an enjoyable evening.

According to the article it was at the end of this evening that Mr Trump thought to himself that he would teach everyone a lesson. As if to say, “there will be a day that they will not be laughing at me anymore – I will be the next president of the United States.”

Despite violating every political standard and mocking the media, his drive led him to the Presidency.

How did it happen?

The honest answer could be somebody shamed him in public.

We as Jews know it.

The Talmud (Gittin 56) tells of a man who wanted to throw a party for all his friends, so he drew up a guest list and instructed his servant to send out the invitations. One of the men on the guest list was named “Kamtza,” but the servant made a mistake and invited “Bar Kamtza” instead. Unfortunately Bar Kamtza was actually a sworn enemy of the host!

When Bar Kamtza received his invitation, he was very grateful to think that the host had finally made amends. But when Bar Kamtza showed up at the party, the host took one look at him and told his servant to immediately eject Bar Kamtza from the premises.

When asked to leave, Bar Kamtza pleaded with the host not to publicly disgrace him and offered  to pay for the entire party. He was rebuffed. Disgraced and embarrassed he left the party and angrily headed towards the Romans encouraging them to eventually destroy the Bet Hamikdash (Temple).

Embarrassment and not respecting others led to the destruction of the Holy Temple.

The Mishna Pirkei Avot (5:1) states “the world was created with ten utterances.” Our Sages explain that G-d wanted to instil in us the importance of words. Through words we can build and through words we can destroy worlds.

That’s the power Tamar understood thousands of years ago.

In our Parasha in the middle of the narration of the story of Yosef and his brothers, the Torah interjects with the story of Yehuda and Tamar [Ch. 38]. Yehuda had 3 sons, the first son – Er — was married to a woman named Tamar. Er died and then the second brother — Onan — married Tamar. When Onan also died, Yehuda did not want to allow his third son Shelah to marry Tamar. Tamar disguised herself and tricked Yehuda into performing a form of levirate marriage with her. When she became noticeably pregnant, Yehuda accused her of being unfaithful to his family. Rather than embarrassing him and announcing that he made her pregnant, she merely ambiguously said that she was pregnant from the person who gave her certain items as a security pledge.

Yehuda recognized the items as his own. Rather than deny the fact that he was indeed the one who lived with her, he admitted that he was the father of her children. In fact, one of the two sons born to Yehuda and Tamar (Peretz) eventually became the ancestor of King David and the Davidic dynasty.

From the fact that Tamar didn’t want to publicly embarrass Yehuda, even though her life was at stake, our Sages derive: “It is better that a person throw himself into a fiery furnace than shame his neighbour in public” (Baba Metzia 59a).

The rabbis were acutely sensitive to humiliation. They said, “Whoever shames his neighbour in public, is as if he shed his blood” and “One who publicly humiliates another, forfeits his place in the World-to-Come” (Baba Metzia 58b-59a).

Rabbi Tanchuma taught: “Know whom you shame; if you shame your neighbour [you shame G-d himself, for it is written], ‘In the image of G-d, He made man’ ” (Bereishit Rabah 24:7).

Shame is the first emotion mentioned in Torah: Adam and Chava felt healthy shame for disobeying G‑d’s commandment. After Kayin killed Hevel, Kayin’s initial lack of shame was so problematic that he had to go through a long cleansing period to awaken him. Yosef’s brothers were lacking shame until they got a huge dose of it 22 years later, when Yosef revealed himself to them. And Yosef himself had to endure many shameful experiences for his own growth.

Both the story of Kamza and Bar Kamza over two thousand years ago and this year’s Whitehouse correspondence dinner highlight a clear message.  Psychological injury may be no less harmful, and is often more so, than physical injury. Hence the rule: never humiliate, never put to shame, never take refuge in the excuse that they were only words, that no physical harm was done. Words are powerful, double check before speaking and pressing the button of no return!


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