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You probably never thought about why it is inappropriate to shame someone, meaning to do something that would cause someone to feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, or even disgraced. It’s obvious why, because it is not nice. But why is it not nice and on the contrary it’s very easy to make up excuses like sometimes it could be fun if done in jest and it could feel good if done to make yourself look good or to bring attention to yourself?!
The last pasuk of this week’s Torah portion of Yisro states, “And you shall not ascend with steps upon My altar, so that your nakedness shall not be exposed upon it'” (Shemos 20:23). Rashi observes on the last part of the pasuk, “אשר לא תגלה ערותך THAT THY NAKEDNESS BE NOT UNCOVERED — because on account of these steps you will have to take large paces and so spread the legs. Now, although this would not be an actual uncovering of one’s nakedness (of the parts usually kept covered), since it is written, (Exodus 28:42) ‘And thou shalt make for them (the priests) linen breeches [to cover the flesh of their nakedness]’, still the taking of large paces is near enough to uncovering one’s nakedness that it may be described as such, and you would then be treating them (the stones of the altar) in a manner that implies disrespect.”
The last Medrish Tanchuma on this Torah portion learns a lesson from here, “for this can be a kal vechomer, (a fortiori), for just as stones that don’t have knowledge to differentiate between good and bad, Hashem still warns you to not treat them in a disrespectful manner, all the more so, your friend, who is created in the likeness of Hashem.” The Etz Yosef adds, “’Your friend who is created in the likeness of Hashem’ as it is written ‘in the likeness of G-D He made him,’ all the more so do you have to be careful not to disrespect him in any possible shameful manner even if you don’t intend to disrespect him, because if you disrespect him you will be disrespecting his likeness of Hashem, and who is honored (or respected) those that honor (or respect) humanity.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
We must analyze this medrish very carefully. The medrish is comparing every single human being to the stones of the ramp that was used to walk up towards the alter which was in turn used to forge a relationship between man and his Father in Heaven, The Almighty King of all Kings. It was a very holy place where sins were forgiven, thanksgiving was offered on the alter and peace offerings were also sacrificed. It is understandable that it must be treated with the utmost respect for what it represents and does for our connection On High. Still in all the medrish says that it is only an inanimate object that doesn’t have any thought process to be able to choose between good and bad, to have emotions, make choices, to feel insulted, but nevertheless it would be inappropriate to show disrespect towards it, even in a slight indirect manner, which was not intentional as Rashi and the Etz Yosef point out. All the more so a human being, your fellow man who was endowed with a sense of free will, who is able to make deep intellectual, and philosophical choices, and can strive for perfection, and a close relationship with the Almighty, Our Father In Heaven; Mankind who was purposefully given the ability to choose between good and bad in order to be put into situations where he could choose to emulate Hashem, who is all good and complete truth, which is what defines us as being created in G-D’s likeness, all the more so must be treated with the utmost respect and not shamed in any way intentionally or unintentionally.
In a similar vein, I was once in Ottawa, Canada, for the changing of the guards which still has connections with the Royal family of England. Every morning there is a long and elaborate ceremony with hundreds of marching soldiers towards the parliament in order to switch the soldiers who are in charge of guarding the royal keys of the Parliament building, such sovereignty and significance was given towards the keys of a building connected to the royal family, all the more so one can imagine the respect and elegance demonstrated to the majesty herself and her family! (Click here for more information about this ceremony.)
If we only realized who we are, beloved princes and princesses, dukes and duchesses of The King Of All Kings as it says in Pirkey Avos (3:14), “He (Rebbe Akiva) would also say: Beloved is man, for he was created in the image [of G‑d]; it is a sign of even greater love that it has been made known to him that he was created in the image, as it is says, “For in the image of G‑d, He made man” (Genesis 9:6).” Then we would be more cognizant and at the forefront of awareness to ensure we treat each other with proper respect.
The special fortune that every single human being is created in the image of Hashem is THE reason why it is not nice to cause any disgrace to each other. If we truly realized the greatness of mankind, where we ourselves come from, how and why we were created and the potential for perfection and purity that each one of us was endowed with, the world would be a much better place!