Saturday, February 23, 2013

Emotional abuse: Embarrassing with strong praise?

Among the prohibitions of emotional abuse is that of embarrassing someone. In fact embarrassing another person has been described in the commentaries as an aspect of murder.

The following story told by Rabbi Zilberstein raises an interesting problem regarding the parameters of the prohibition.

Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer had a group of talmidei chachom who met with him discussing various Torah issues. Amongst the group was a yeshiva bachur. At some point in the discussion the bachur made a comment and Rav Issser Zalman got very exicted. He told everyone that what the bachur said was a profound insight. The bachur was embarrassed by the praise. When the bachur tried to protest the praise but that only increased the intensity of the praise. After everyone left, the bachur approached Rav Isser Zalman and asked why he praised him since he was only stating the position of the Shach regarding the discussion topic.  Rav Isser Zalman told him that he knew it was the view of the Shach. He explained that it was time for the bachur to find a shidduch and he wanted it know that he viewed the bachur as a serious talmid chachom.
Rav Zilberstein added that when Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach heard the story he noted that there was an additional aspect of Rav Isser Zalman’s greatness. Since it was clear to the other scholars that this was in fact the view of the Shach – Rav Isser Zalman had degraded himself by making a scene for the sake of the bachur and indicating he himself didn’t know this fact.

I also remember a similar episode when I was in yeshiva. 
There was a bachur who was smart but was very insecure and had low self-esteem issues. Once he made a comment retarding the gemora and the rebbe made a big fuss about what a fantastic chiddush the bachur made. The bachur told me afterwards that he was strongly embarrassed by the rebbe’s praise but it clearly indicated that he felt that the bachur was a nebach who needed to be praised and thus singled him out for this “positive” reinforcement.
My question is whether strong praise said with the intent of benefit - but which in fact causes embarrassment  – is it permitted or is it prohibited as emotional abuse?


  1. When a couple who have not yet had children attend a simcha, it is commonplace to respond to their wishes of Mazel Tov with an emphatic "Im Yirtzeh Hashem by you". And this can be excrutiatingly painful even though the baal simcha is sincere in this bracha. We can identify other similar experiences. The bottom line is that the best intended praises, even brachos, might not be received as such, and the recipient may be made to feel hurt.

    If we are seeking to do chesed, we need to have some idea that it will be received in that sense. Receiving tzedokoh can be embarassing, and that is overcome by looking to fulfill the conditions delineated by the Rambam to make it into a "matan beseiser".

  2. I know a beautiful unmarried young lady whose sister (younger) just had a baby.The unmarried girl posted news of her neice's birth.Most people responded "Mazel Tov" and one dullard responded "Im yirtzeh Hashem by you".People can be such dolts.


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