The Dignity of Others
Last week we read in the Torah about the importance of treating women captives of war in a humane and compassionate way. This week, an 18 year old woman by the name of Jinan published her memoirs in France. Jinan belongs to the Yazidi minority in Iraq, and she was sold to savages in a “women’s slave market” by ISIS terrorists. In the book, Jinan describes what she and thousands of other women, including many young girls, teenagers, or even ten year olds, had had to endure. The horrific and the unspeakable. Many of these women died as a result of this physical barbarism. It is beyond tragic, that millennia after the Torah came to the world, humanity is still failing to live up to basic standards of human decency and conscience.
Most of us will never engage in warfare thank G-d, nor have to guard prisoners of war. But some of us do have significant “power over others”. For example, people whom we employ, subordinates, people who don’t necessarily hold the most senior or prestigious position in a company, a firm, or an institution. How do we treat those individuals over whom we have social and economic power? Those of lesser means, those who depend on their paychecks from week to week, and those who cannot answer back when humiliated and offended, lest they lose their sole source of income? Do we address them in the same way, and in the same respectful tone with which we would address a colleague of comparable status? Are we as sensitive and respectful to them and to their feelings and dignity, or do we G-d forbid degrade and patronize them?
Our sages employ in this context a poignant Hebrew idiom: “Eved ki yimloch”, which basically means “When a slave purports to reign”. Worldly power is a false idol, it is ephemeral and fleeting. We will all end up in the same place, under the ground, where we will all decompose. And there is only one true King, the King of kings, and we are all his servants. Asserting dominion over others is a false and dishonorable thing to do.
I will never forget the late Aaron Cohen of blessed memory. Aaron was a strong man, a true leader, and a super successful and competent professional. He always spoke in a low voice, and with a gentle and caressing tone. He never threatened or attacked. His was the way of gentility, the way of the Torah whose “ways are the ways of pleasantness, and all its paths lead to peace”. I would like to become more like Aaron. How about you?