There are instances in life where our personal expression or enjoyment of life should be considered in relation to how it affects others. For example, if you are making a wedding of your youngest child.  On the one hand, it’s your last hurrah and you have come by your money honestly, so why not splurge and enjoy the celebration with many extras such as a larger band, and a more extravagant venue?  Yet, how will this make others feel who are less financially secure?  And what about the mechutanim?  Or even enjoying the pleasures of a decorated home or designer clothes?  Where do we draw the line between personal gratification and the feelings of others?  In rabbinic terms, this is known as “Shelo levayesh es mi she’eyn lo”, “so as not to embarrass one who does not have.”  This principle comes up several times in Shas, and it is also notable as to when it is not invoked.  Let us study this matter to derive possible models to use in evaluating whether and how to consider the impact of your luxuries on others.

Our Gemara on Amud Beis considers if it should be permitted for a man to increase the standard amount of the kesuba, because the other brides who do not have sufficient funds to match may feel embarrassed. Ultimately, the Gemara rejects this concern.

However, there are many other Gemaras that do take into account this principle. For example, the famous Mishna (Ta’anis 4:8) that discusses the Shidduch festival of Yom Kippur and the 15th of Av.  The potential brides wore borrowed clothing so as not to embarrass those who couldn’t afford a finer wardrobe. Another interesting example comes from Ezer Mikodesh (EH:55:2): A possible reason for the custom of using the canopy for the Chuppah to accomplish nisuin, as opposed to the chosson using or renting his own home, is too forestall embarrassment of those who cannot afford one. Or Gemara Pesachim (82a), which forbids the person from burning his Paschal sacrifice that became impure from his own wood supply instead of the Temple’s wood supply.  According to Rav Yosef, it was so as not to embarrass those who could not afford their own wood. An additional example can be found regarding the custom instituted in the time of Rabban Gamliel to bury in simple white garments so as not to embarrass those who cannot afford fancier burial shrouds.  (Though the Gemara Moed Kattan 27b does not use the phrase “Shelo levayesh…”, this is the obvious reason, and indeed Rambam, Laws of Mourning 4:1, uses the phrase “Shelo levayesh.”)

So, when do we apply this principle, and when do we not?  A couple of distinctions come to mind.  Perhaps the most important is that in the case in our Gemara, someone else is granting the extra portion (the groom or father in law).  Perhaps the rabbis were less afraid of overindulgence when it is not coming from the person him or herself, or additionally perhaps it feels less embarrassing to those who do not have, since after all, it is coming from someone else’s largess.  Another related idea is what Rabbi Yisrael Salanter famously said about Chessed:  “When it comes to kindness to others, do not be such a big Baal Bitachon.” That is, don’t be frum on someone else’s cheshbon. Why should the bride-to-be lose out on financial security in order to protect others’ feelings?

Another distinction is that the distress of a single woman trying to get married is much more than the woman who is about to be married.  Even if she is not getting as big a dowry as her more wealthy friends, the joy of finding her mate is not muted much by financial disparities. We can similarly use this to explain the concern regarding the wood to burn the invalidated Paschal sacrifice and the burial shrouds.  Those are immediate needs with no mitigating joyful factors so we are more careful to protect the have-nots.  

One final distinction that occurs to me is that clothing is more personal and thus the embarrassment more acute.  Though this will not explain the Paschal Sacrifice scenario, it does explain why we apply this principle to the case of the shrouds and Shidduch dresses.

 

Translations Courtesy of Sefaria, (except when, sometimes, I disagree with the translation cool.)