By Rabbi Daniel Travis
She conceived and bore a son; and she said, “God has gathered away my
humiliation.” (Bereshith 30:23)
The name "Yosef" stems from the root "asaf" which means “to gather up.” So
long as a woman remains childless, she has no one on whom to blame her
mistakes and shortcomings. When she has a child, on the other hand, he is
assumed to be responsible for much of what goes wrong in the home1. “Your son broke the vase,” people say,
or, “Your son ate the figs.” Marital harmony was of the utmost importance
to our forefathers, and anything that could perfect their relationships
with their spouses was looked at as something of tremendous significance.
Even in situations which do not involve marriage, a person should be
willing to sacrifice a great deal for the sake of protecting another’s
feelings. Someone who was not involved in the act, yet assumes
responsibility for it removes a tremendous burden from the shoulders of
the guilty party. Therefore it is praiseworthy to verbally accept
responsibility in situations that would be embarrassing to others, for the
sake of sparing others from disgrace. However, while this is good policy,
a person should not say outright that he actually did the action in
question, but rather that he is responsible for it2. Worded in this way, it is not an untruth, since every
member of the Jewish People is responsible for his fellow Jews3. If one can take the blame without saying
anything, this is definitely preferable.
Once when Rebbi was delivering a lecture, there was such a strong smell of
garlic in the air that Rebbi requested that whoever it was who had eaten
the garlic leave the room. Although Rav Chiyah, who was participating in
the lecture, had not eaten garlic, he immediately left the room, whereupon
all the other students did the same. Thus they saved the one who had
actually eaten the garlic the embarrassment of being identified4. How could such a great Torah scholar as
Rav Chiyah cause public disgrace to the Torah by admitting that he had
done something distasteful? Rav Chiyah was of such stature that it was
clear that he would never have done an act of that nature, and that he
only intended to save face for the guilty party. Otherwise, good
intentions notwithstanding, it would have been forbidden to act as he
If no one else steps forward to accept the blame for a specific action,
the halachah is that the guilty party must admit what he has done in order
to save everyone else from suspicion. In any case, no one else may
volunteer information regarding who the guilty party is, for it would
certainly embarrass him6.
1 Rashi on Bereshith 30:23.
2 Sefer Chasidim 22.
3 Shavuoth 39a.
4 Sanhedrin 11a.
5 Maharsha ibid.
6 Orchoth Mesharim 5:23.
Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org