Parasha Noach

"Reputation is what men and women think of us; character is what G-d and angels know of us." Thomas PaineSpeaking UpMonica Lewinsky was back in the news this week. She spoke at a forum, hosted by Forbes Magazine, to a group of a thousand entrepreneurs under the age of thirty. She spoke eloquently about her experience of being the first person humiliated and shamed publicly and globally via the internet. You can read the entire transcript of her speech online at .  She was 22 years old back in 1998 when her two year affair with President Bill Clinton became public. Monica Lewinsky became the center of a media frenzy that took her overnight from being an unknown private person to a publically humiliated and ridiculed one. Her name became the object of salacious lyrics from the likes of rap artists like Beyonce and Eminem, of Nicki Minaj and Kid Cudi and Lil B and Lil Wayne.  There were two Monica Lewinskys, she said, the private one who was loved by her family and friends; and the public one, who was whatever political factions or the media wanted her to be.  She  described to  her audience  the shame that she has lived with  for the last sixteen years – the personal shame, the shame for what she put her family through, and the shame that befell our country. There was the name calling she had to endure – tart, floozy, bimbo, tramp. The New York Post took to calling her “The Portly Pepperpot” almost daily. Could you imagine what that does to the self-esteem of a 22 year old young woman who did nothing wrong other than fall in love with a man – her boss —  who should have known far better than to encourage her affections? She said, “The experience of shame and humiliation online is different than offline. There is no way to wrap your mind around where the humiliation ends — there are no borders. It honestly feels like the whole world is laughing at you. I know. I lived it.” No wonder she felt suicidal. No wonder she wanted to die. No wonder she was almost humiliated to death, yet, she survived. Tyler Clementi, and others who have had their reputations sullied in the same manner did not. You may remember Tyler Clementi. He was an 18 year old freshman at Rutgers University in 2010 when his roommate surreptitiously videotaped him via Webcam kissing another man. Tyler was ridiculed and mercilessly humiliated online. Several days later, full of shame and self-loathing, Tyler jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge.         So, good for you, Monica Lewinsky for speaking up! I admire and respect your courage, your grace and your sincerity.  Good for you that you want to use your experience to help change the culture of bullying that has grown up around our social media on the internet.   Good for you that you have let us in by personally testifying to the harm done to people by having their reputations shattered and destroyed by online cyberbullying. Our Parasha this week contains the verse, “One who sheds the blood of another human being, by another human being his blood shall be shed, for G-d creates humankind in the image of G-d.” The Chofetz Chaim relates this verse to public humiliation. When one is humiliated publicly, he says, ones face “turns white” – the blood rushes from ones face – and this is the “shedding” of blood that this verse refers to. To publically humiliate a person, to destroy their reputation, is, according to the Chofetz Chayim, to metaphorically kill them. Or, perhaps it is not so metaphorically. Monica Lewinsky concludes her talk with a quotation from Oscar Wilde, “I have said that behind sorrow there is always sorrow. It were wiser still to say that behind sorrow there is always a soul.  And to mock at a soul in pain is a dreadful thing.” Some people, as we have seen, are literally driven to death by public mockery. Others somehow survive, but something inside of them, a little bit of the soul, perhaps, has died. That is no way to treat a fellow human being who is created in the image of G-d. The story is told of Samuel the Prince, the eleventh century Spanish-Jewish poet who was Prime Minister to the King of Granada. He was once insulted by an enemy in the presence of the King. The King was so angered that he ordered Samuel the Prince, his Prime Minister, to punish the offender by cutting out his tongue. Contrary to the King’s mandate, Samuel treated his enemy with the utmost kindness. When the king learned that his order had not been carried out, he was greatly astonished. Samuel was ready with a profound answer. He said: “I have carried out your order, Your Majesty.  I have cut out his evil tongue and have given him instead a kindly tongue” (B. Raskas, Heart of Wisdom). Monica Lewinsky’s life could have gone in many different directions following her ordeal. She could have been literally destroyed by the public humiliation she went through. She could have decided to change her name and assume a new identity to escape her reputation.  She could have cashed in on her notoriety by selling her story to the highest bidder. She probably could have gotten her own television show on cable and become an entertainer. She could have spent her life trying to even the score with her detractors. She could have simply kept quiet, and shielded the rest of us from remembering that painful period in our communal history as Americans. Surely many powerful people and even some of us would have preferred that. Instead, she has reclaimed her dignity; she has reclaimed her own voice and her own story.  She has taken the path of Samuel the Prince. She has dedicated herself to working toward making our world a kinder place. Shabbat Shalom