The sons of Jacob find themselves before Egypt’s second in command, unaware that it’s really their brother Joseph. Falsely accused of espionage and of stealing from the royal palace, about to lose their father’s beloved son Benjamin — whom they swore to protect from harm — Judah approaches the viceroy determined to end this downward spiral though all means.

It is at precisely this moment that Joseph cannot hide his true identity any longer, and he asks all but his brothers to leave the room. The Midrash (Tanchuma) notes that to ask everyone to leave was practically suicidal for Joseph. Fearing for Benjamin’s life, his brothers could easily justify killing Joseph, and there would be no witness to the act.

Rather, concludes the Midrash, Joseph’s overriding concern was for his brother’s dignity. When they discovered that they had severely erred in their judgment of Joseph and his dreams, that they had put their father through 22 torturous years of mourning for naught, they would certainly not want to be in the public eye. Joseph selflessly risked his life for the sake of his brothers’ dignity.

It’s a powerful message to us. Our culture glorifies the embarrassment of others; recorded gaffes and insults to those in the public eye go viral on youtube, and biting one-line remarks make up a good portion of today’s humor. Magazines whose sole purpose is gossip — usually of the least complimentary kind — abound. Where has the respect for human dignity gone?


  1. I wonder, where does something like respect for human dignity go, when it cannot find a ‘place to dwell’ or a home to live in?
    Does it go back to where it came from?
    Does it dissipate over time?
    Does it lower its standards and reconfigure itself to find somewhere to dwell that represents the ‘closest’ fit?
    Does it simply fade away, or is there a home somewhere else where it waits for an opportunity to revisit?

    Personally, I don’t know where it’s gone. And I also don’t think it’s hopeless. What I do know, is that I can make every attempt possible to give it a decent place to live in my life.

  2. I applaud the sentiments in this article. many lives are damaged by the embarassment caused by Newspaper articles ect. I however feel we also need to apply it in our personal lives. Just this week I heard of an 8 year old girl being spat at in an Orthodox neighbourhood of Jerusalem because of the way she was dressed, surely this does not follow the principle above as the girl was embarassed for something that is not even her fault. At 8 years of age she does not choose her own clothes. As one of our sages said about Torah –
    “Love thy neighbour” is all important.

    • Thank you for raising this issue of grave concern. There has been much discussion about this matter on the blog related to our organization here and here. Please take a look and feel free to join in the discussion.

      I also saw an excellent response here – especially this beautiful story:

      Perhaps you should try following the example of a real Torah Jew, the great Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, of blessed memory.

      A non-religious Israeli couple was married for 12 years and could not have children. They were distraught and decided to seek counsel from the renowned Rosh Yeshiva. It was a hot summer day and the couple knocked on the door. The woman was wearing her typical summer attire and was not modestly dressed.

      Rebbetzin Finkel opened the door and greeted the couple. “How wonderful that you came to meet my husband!” Then she turned to the wife and warmly said, “You know, my husband is a great scholar he learns all day. When I go in to speak with him, I wear a shawl out of respect. Why don’t you come with me and see if I have one for you, too. I think I even have a perfect piece of jewelry to match. And we’ll go in together to speak to him.”

      They entered his study and told the rabbi why they had come. Rabbi Finkel had great difficulty talking due to the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s. He mustered his strength and said to the woman, “You and I have a lot in common. We both know what suffering is.” He began to sob, along with Rebbetzin Finkel. Then the couple started crying.

      Rabbi Finkel spoke with the couple for a while, offering words of comfort. He then took their names, and vowed to pray for them.

      No yelling, no threats, no spitting. Just love, respect and compassion of one Jew for another.

  3. All a (‘necessary?’) prelude to what will happen next. I hear the footsteps of Moshiach – does anybody else?

  4. Why would Midrash make such a claim. It is totally illogical. If brothers killed Yosef no one would make out of Egypt alive. Let’s grow up. Therefore Yosef had no concern for security but only for dignity.

    • You have a great question and I think you’d benefit much from researching the Midrash further. I would not suggest making any conclusions until you’ve looked into the matter. I have found for myself that when questions really bother me and I seek out a resolution by delving into the sources the pearls of wisdom that are uncovered are all the more enlightening. One thought: I would highly doubt that today any world leader would be allowed to be in a room alone without security backup, especially with enemies of the state.

  5. I agree regarding your last statement, but I would not worry about host nation leader that rogue visitors without weapons would attack. Midrashim though are to make a point but not to assume that they account for all of quintessential wisdom. We have divine souls that may intuitively object to some no less divine sources and when we have ethical collisions with hallachot or Midrashim all have to be examined. Rav Kook gave the paradimes to analyze wisdom in dynamics.

  6. Thank you for your continually bringing the Lessons of His Love to us in our unending challenges of today’s world. The relevancy of ”going viral on youtube” keeps me poised for meeting more and more of life’s predicaments.

    Thank you for all you do to unravel His Word.

    Daniel Arnold Langner,
    San Antonio, Texas

  7. Dear M. Dixler,
    Thank you for your great weekly insights and upbeat words!
    It is so nice to see and read about good midos, wonderful outlooks and inspiring facts about our brothers and sisters! This is the exact opposite of loshon hora and it deserves a far greater audience than all the gossip tabloids combined.
    On and on!
    Avrohom Abba

  8. We have a real question, here, that functions on both the “real” world and spiritual level, if you will. The evidence for a raging lack of respect in the “outside” world is unquestionable. As to where it came from, I would opine that devices such as television appeals to the yetzer hara in everyone and amplifies the tendencies we would rather diminish. Further, television and state schools seem often to be in the business of statist indoctrination, accomplishing this through spurious entertainment and “authoritarian knowledge” [sic], respectively. While I believe this may be done to secularise the open community, thereby relocating the focus of individual control from the family to peer or government sources, that becomes a longer discussion. Let it suffice that these mechanisms try to refocus our proper respect from the traditional family toward a nebulous set of “authorities” to which most people cannot relate and, therefore, develop difficulty in placing and growing respect where it truly belongs.

    The other and more significant side of this issue is the intolerance shown not only to Jews by Jews, but generalising to everyone of an unlike disposition. To love every person as one loves oneself is the Torah’s clear message, yet it seems sadly neglected in an age with increasing disrespect. If I may, one reason I have often found for such behaviour is the lack of the individual’s self-respect which projects onto others and the world in general.

    My personal opinion is that this generalised intolerance not only shows a marked disrespect for fellow Jews, but is the result of an increase in the animal soul strength in which one’s self, behaviour, and beliefs are deemed far more important than those of anyone external to one’s insular tribe. It is precisely this kind of cloistering, closed mindedness that our sages have fought; and His message through His Torah has warned against. How can we believe that the “Lord is One”, meaning part of us all, showing our one-ness, if we do not show the respect we would want shown our G-d and to ourselves?

    The conflict is that many of us may pray one thing, yet many of us seem to practice the opposite. One might be open to thinking that we are lax in our consistency; consistency being a mark, if I might note it, of self-respect. In many ways I cannot blame electronic “toys” for this as much of the ultra-orthodox community do not, I believe, interact with such media.

    However, the increased pressure in the “outside’ world toward secularisation, received from peer, educational, and electronic inputs, may strongly contribute to this atmosphere as the raging animal soul believes in nothing more than his perfection and correctness, at the aggressive expense of everyone else’s credibility; thus the increased disrespect in the open world, as no one else can be correct if that property is our exclusive domain. Therefore, it is the focus on “me” that helps drive this phenomenon; and drives us away from Him as His world becomes not infinite enough for the raging “me” and Him.


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