Onaas Devarim. Join me in learning
Previous  1, 2, 3  Next  Last >>
Post new topic   Reply to topic    Forum -> Judaism -> Halachic Questions and Discussions

View latest: 24h 48h 72h



Post Tue, May 11 2021, 6:14 pm
From the Kuntras, section 4 now with transliteration....

4. Note that there is a mitzvah which is parallel to don't aggravate, namely the positive mitzvah of loving your neighbor as yourself in parshas Kedoshim. This mitzvah applies to most of the examples in this booklet. There are even cases where don't aggravate may not apply for a technical reason, but "vahavta lreacha kamocha" would still apply.
Back to top



Post Wed, May 12 2021, 11:55 am
5. Shlomo HaMelech writes (Mishlei 17,21) "Death and Life are in the hand of one's tongue". We have to be careful with our speech, it has the power to give someone "life [as by giving a compliment], or chas v'shalom to "kill" him [by saying a hurtful comment].

5a The Gra (Mishlei 18) explains that hurtful speech harms a person more than being hit physically. While hitting a person hurts his body, a hurtful comment penetrates to one's neshama. Moreover, the wound that one receives from being hit will heal, but the wound caused by a hurtful comment is not forgotten - it does not heal.

More from Sticks and Stones - Miriam Adahan

"You shall not wrong one another, but shall fear your G-d" Vayikra 25:17
This refers to hurting others with words.
Back to top



Post Thu, May 13 2021, 7:40 pm
More from the Kuntras:

6. We have to be extra careful with what we say when we are tired or hungry. We tend to get upset then more quickly than normal.

7. We have to be extremely careful with what we say; sometimes we don't ever realize that we hurt someone else's feelings, to be able to ask him for mechila. We could live our whole lives with someone bearing a grudge again us, and not know it.

Good yom tov to all!
Back to top



Post Thu, May 13 2021, 10:48 pm
Thanks! These are fantastic.
I hope my post will serve as a bump for more people to notice this thread.
Back to top



Post Fri, May 14 2021, 2:42 pm
8. Even if you hurt someone's feeling l'shem shemayim - for that person's good, you may still be liable for punishment. Rav Chaim Shmuelevtiz z"tzl says that bein adam l'chavero is compared to a fire. Just like someone who puts his hand into a fire will burn his hand even if he has good intentions, so too are the consequences of hurting someone else's feelings even when done l'shem shemayim e.g. he said something for that person's good.

8a. We learn this from the story told in Sefer Shmuel about the two wives of Elkanan, Chana and Penina. Penina was zocheh to have children, while Chana was childless. Penina would pain Chana by asking her "Did you buy clothing for your children?" In the morning she would ask her, "Are you getting up to wash your children's faces to go to yeshiva?" In the afternoon she would ask her, "Are you going out to greet your children coming home from yeshiva?" She did this is order the Chana should be hurt and daven harder to Hashem to give her children.

Eventually Hashem answered Chana's tefillos and she was zocheh to a son who ended up being Shmuel HaNavi (and another 4-6 children).

Even though Penina had good intentions, she was punished for causing Chana pain. For each child which Chana gave birth to, two of Penina's children were nifter. After losing 8 of her 10 children. Chana was expecting her fifth child. Penina knew that when this child was born she would be left with no children. She begged Chana to have rachmanus on her. Chana davened and Penina's two remaining children remained alive.

(Thanks, PinkFridge!)
Back to top



Post Wed, May 19 2021, 12:39 pm
There was a couple living in Yerushalayim who did not have children for many years, who were finally zocheh to have a baby boy. The husband was 52 and his wife was 46. Everyone in the neighborhood was excited, and they called it bris Yitzchak. The lucky father was zocheh that everyone who heard about it showed up for the bris. The father got up at the bris and excused himself for not preparing enough food for the big crowd. He then said:

At this emotional time, I would like to tell everyone what my wife and I have gone through all these years to be zocheh to have a baby.

During our years of marriage, we attempted all possibilities to have children. We went to doctors in and out of Eretz Yisroel. We did all kinds of treatments, but none of them worked.

About a year ago we went to America to one of the greatest medical centers for fertility in the world. The best doctors tried, but they had no success. Finally, the head doctors called us in and told us, “That’s it. There’s nothing else to be done, based on what exists today in the medical world. You will not have any children in your lifetime.”

We came back to Eretz Yisroel depressed, full of the despair. On the way I was thinking, “What should I do now?” We came back to our apartment very late, I stood in one corner and my wife in the other, and we both burst out crying—the tzar came pouring out. I turned to Hashem and said: You Hashem—the Borei Olam- know that we did whatever is in our ability to do and even beyond that, and we were not successful. Please Hashem open our eyes so that we should know why we don’t have children. Whom did I insult that You are withholding me from having children?”

I stood there crying, and then suddenly a picture from the past came into my mind like a flash of lighting. I remembered that when I as a student in yeshiva gedolah, there was a lady with a difficult life who would clean the place. For a certain period of time she brought along her four young children with her to work. They would run around the yeshiva and disturb us from our learning.

The bachurim decided amongst themselves that the only solution was to send one of the students to her to tell her nicely that her children were disturbing their learning. I, the oldest one, was chosen to speak to her. I went to her in a respectable fashion and explained it to her nicely. She looked at me nicely, and said, “I am a woman with a very hard life, and it is with great difficulty that I make a livelihood to feed my children. I have no one to babysit them. I wish you should never have children that will disturb you from your learning.

I looked at the clock and saw it was 1:00 in the morning. Even though it was very late I called the secretary of the yeshiva and asked if she could get me the phone number of this lady who cleaned the yeshiva so many years ago. When I was asked why I was calling so late, I answered, “I’ll explain it to you a different time. Please I must have it.” The secretary looked it up and gave me the phone number.

I didn’t think about the hour, I dialed her number and it rang and rang and rang until finally she picked up. I recognized her voice even though it had changed over the years. I introduced myself as a bochur who had learned in the yeshiva thirty years ago. I told her that my wife and I would like to meet her; it is an emergency. She said, “If that is the case, come right over.”

We hired a taxi to bring us to her house in Bat Yam. We knocked on the door, and she let us in, I told her that we have no children, and we think it is because I offended her. I then told her the whole story. Surprisingly she remembered me and she then told us that that period of life was extremely difficult for her and she was forced to raise her children all by herself. She said, “The last thing I wanted to do was to bring my kids along with me to work. When you told me those words, it caused me great pain.” She began to cry when she was the results of it and told us, “I forgive you,” and she wished us to be zocheh to have children.

It was already morning when we went back to our house. We were now calm and felt cleansed and purified and we were zocheh the next year to have a son born without any treatments whatsoever.

One of the gedolim who were present at the bris and heard this story, turned to one of the gedolei hador with the following question: Why did he have to suffer so much? He spoke to her respectfully – he wanted that they should not disturb their learning. Did he do such a bad thing? He gadol hador replied: “It wasn’t the bochur’s job to set her straight, since he didn’t hire her. He should have gone over to the rosh yeshiva who hired her – who was her boss, to have him speak to her.

(Rav Yisroel Brog Shlita, Rosh Yeshivas Tiferes Avigdor, Cleveland)
Back to top



Post Thu, May 20 2021, 10:46 am
From the Kuntras

9. One of the reasons for the issur of tzar baalei chaim is to train ourselves not to hurt other people. By training ourselves to not hurt even animals, we will become accustomed to not hurting people either.

9a. The Rambam writes that the reason for mnay of the mitzvos in the Torah is to train us not to hurt other people's feelings. For example: shluach hakan and oso ves bno.

From Sticks and Stones:
Chapter 2
Degrees of Onaas Devarim
Overcoming the urge to abuse

The first step in combating ona'as devarim is developing sensitivity to the feelings of others. We can do this by asking others to let us know how they feel about our words and actions. We can listen non-defensively, with compassion, instead of trying to excuse or justify ourselves. We can be aware that each person has his own "touchy" areas. What hurts one may not hurt another. We can decide to never deliberately cause pain to others no matter how justified it may seem at the moment.

We should increase our awareness that each person is created in the Divine image and is, therefore, worthy of respect. We can put this into practice in daily interactions by consciously viewing others --including small children -- in this way.

When we feel the urge to shame or humiliate another person, we should get in touch with our motivation by asking ourselves, "Why do I want to make that person feel inadequate or inferior? What am I getting out of this?"
Back to top



Post Tue, May 25 2021, 10:08 pm
Kuntras continued

10. Let us train ourselves not to hurt others. By doing so, life becomes a lot more enjoyable. We make new friends, and keep our existing friends. We get along better with our siblings. We become nicer people- the kind of people that others really like to be around.

11. Until you try it, you cannot imagine the happiness one was when he overcomes himself not to say something nasty to someone. Try it today. You will want to savor that happiness again.

11a This happiness will last for a long time. You will always be able to picture it in your mind. I ti s not at all like the pleasure that you get for a few seconds while you say a hurtful comment to someone.
Back to top



Post Wed, May 26 2021, 8:50 am
Tizku l'mitzvos. This is fantastic.
Back to top



Post Wed, May 26 2021, 1:08 pm
Hurting Others' Feelings

Onaat Devarim is the prohibition to say anything that would pain, anger, hurt, frighten, bother or embarrass another person.[1]

1 The obligation
2 When is one liable?
3 Specific Applications
3.1 Negative Reminders
3.2 Public Areas
3.3 Financial Hurt
4 Sources
The obligation
This obligation applies at all times, in all places, to all Jewish men and women. One must also train one’s children in this obligation.[2]
It is prohibited even to hurt the feeling of a child.[3]
One should be extra careful not to hurt the feelings of a convert [4] as well as one's own wife.[5]
When is one liable?
This prohibition applies even if one simply gestured or wrote something that hurt somebody else without actually saying it.[6]
The main prohibition is violated when the word, action or gesture, was intended to hurt.[7] Nonetheless, one is obligated to distance oneself from the possibility of causing hurt unintentionally.[8]

The Gemara in Bava Metzia 58b derives this prohibition from the pasuk in Vayikra 25:17 וְלֹא תוֹנוּ אִישׁ אֶת עֲמִיתוֹ וְיָרֵאתָ מֵאֱלֹהֶיךָ כִּי אֲנִי יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, "one shall not aggrieve his fellow, and you shall fear your G-d, for I am Hashem your G-d." This is brought down as halacha by the Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 228:1. The Gemara and Shulchan Aruch there say that this is worse than onaat mamon (overcharging) because 1. it cannot be undone and 2. it injures the person himself, not just his money. Rambam in Hilchot Deot 6:3 and Hilchot Teshuva 3:14 writes that one who regularly shames others has no portion in the World to Come. Chazon Ish Letters volume 1 #211 says that this prohibition applies even if the discomfort will only be momentary. This Mitzvah is included in the 365 prohibitions in Sefer Hamitzvot 251 and Sefer Hachinuch 338.
Mishpatei Hashalom page 85. Shaare Teshuva 3:214 writes that this prohibition applies even when nobody else is present, even between husband and wife or parents and children.
Mishpatei Hashalom page 85, Sefer Hachinnuch 338. In Bastion of Faith by Avraham Fishelis, page 16, he tells a story that when Rav Moshe Feinstein’s young grandchild was playing with some friends, he saw his grandfather pass by and immediately ran to him. Rav Moshe kissed his grandchild and then also kissed the other children, so as not to hurt their feelings.
Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 228:2
Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 228:3.
Mishpatei Hashalom page 86 quotes the Chafetz Chaim in Chovat Hashmira that onaat devarim, like Lashon Harah is violated even through writing and gesturing even though devarim literally means words. He quotes the Sefer Yiraim 5:180 that even displaying a negative facial expression to someone can be a violation of this transgression.
Bava Metzia 58b states that the וְיָרֵאתָ מֵאֱלֹהֶיךָ in the passuk of Onaat Devarim refers to the instruction to fear Hashem by not attempting to hurt another, since one could claim that he didn't intend to hurt, but Hashem knows the intention of a person. This is also indicated by the Rambam in Hilchot Mechira 14:18. The Tur and Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 228:5 write in reference to calling someone by a nickname, that it is prohibited if one’s intention is to embarrass him.
Sefer HaChinuch 338 and Mishpatei Hashalom page 90.
[From Halachapedia]
Back to top



Post Thu, May 27 2021, 7:03 pm
Specific Applications
Negative Reminders
It is prohibited to remind someone of his previous sins, or that he never used to be religious, or that he is a convert.[9]
It is prohibited to remind someone of his wounds or of his ugly appearance.[10]
It is prohibited to inform someone that his afflictions came to him because of his sins.[11] Nonetheless, it is permitted, and is even a Mitzvah, to softly allude to this possibility if one’s goal is to inspire him to repent.[12]
It is prohibited to give rebuke to another person if it cannot be done without embarrassing, insulting or hurting his feelings.[13]

[9[ Shulchan Aruch 428:4, based on the Mishnah and the Gemara Bava Metzia 58b, Rambam mishne Torah hilchot yeshiva 7:8.
[10]Mishpatei Hashalom page 88 based on Taanit 20.
[11]Shulchan Aruch 428:4, based on Bava Metzia 58b.
[12]Mishpatei Hashalom page 88 based on Berachot 5a
[13]Gemara in Erchin 16b, Rambam Hilchos Dayos 6:8. Rav Chaim Volozhin writes in Keter Rosh 143 that someone who cannot rebuke gently without hurting someone's feelings is exempt from the mitzva to give rebuke.

(From Halachapedia)
Back to top



Post Sun, May 30 2021, 9:31 pm
Public Areas
It is forbidden to wake somebody up unless they either want to be woken up or it is for the fulfillment of a mitzva and it is also forbidden to make a lot of noise thereby preventing somebody from falling asleep.[14]
It is forbidden to cut lines in a public area, even with the permission of the person at the front, since one has caused pain to every person who was previously closer to the front.[15]
It is forbidden to emit a foul body odor [16] or to scratch one’s wounds [17] in the presence of others.
One may not open or close windows, if it will cause others discomfort.[18]
One may not cause another discomfort by saying a long Shmoneh Esrei directly behind someone who plans to sit down after being able to take his three steps back.[19]
It is prohibited to crowd around an ambulance when the ill person is being brought in, since it causes pain, fright and embarrassment to the family.[20]
One may not embarrass another by asking him a question that he may not know the answer to.[21] A rabbi may do so under certain circumstances in order to sharpen his students.[22]
One may not ask a guest to say a dvar Torah unless one knows that he would be able to say one.[23]
One may not make prank phone calls, or perform other practical jokes that are likely to cause any degree of hassle, pain or anguish like calling a fire engine for no reason.[24]
One is obligated to return sefarim or library books to the correct shelf immediately after use.[25]
Some say that one should not tell a sick person “Ad Me’ah Ve’Esrim” –“May you live until 120” because it may be considered like a curse limiting their time to 120 years.[26]

14. Mishpatei Hashalom page 87. This is included under Onaat Devarim because it includes refraining from causing others anger or pain, including stealing their sleep.
15 Mishpatei Hashalom page 87.
16. Mishpatei Hashalom page 87 based on Gemara Sanhedrin 11a.
17. Mishpatei Hashalom page 87 based on Gemara Kiddushin 81
18. Mishpatei Hashalom page 91.
19. Mishpatei Hashalom page 91 quoting the Yerushalmi Rosh Hashana 2:5
20 Mishpatei Hashalom page 89.
21. Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 428:4 based on Gemara Bava Metzia 58b.
22 Mishpatei Hashalom page 89, Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 246:12, based on Bava Metzia 85a.
23. Sefer Chassidim 312
24. Mishpatei Hashalom page 89
25. Mishpatei Hashalom page 89
26. Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein in Alienu LeShabe’ach writes that one shouldn’t say to a sick person “Ad Me’ah Ve’Esrim” –“May you live until 120” because it may be considered like a curse limiting their time to 120 years. Rav Gamliel Rabinowitz quotes this and agrees although he posits that the custom is based on the Malbim’s understanding of Beresheet 6:3. See similar quotes here and in Ein Lamo Michshol (v. 6 n. 4 p. 243).
Back to top



Post Mon, May 31 2021, 10:05 pm
Bein Adam Le-chavero: Ethics of Interpersonal Conduct

By Rav Binyamin Zimmerman

Shiur #06: Onaat Devarim


What Stands at the Root of Both Types of Onaa:

The Chinnukh describes the mitzva of onaa as taking advantage of another's weakness.

The Torah commands us not to cause grief to another Jew by way of speech — I.e., not to say to another Jew something that might pain him or aggrieve him when he is incapable of defending himself. (Mitzva 338)

The understanding of the Chinnukh is seemingly echoed by the commentary of Rav S.R. Hirsch, which provides an explanation for the term which makes the connection understandable. He explains the root of the word onaa as the exploitation of the weakness of man, in order to cheat him, a definition which leaves ample room for two diverse types, commercial and personal.

In commerce, onaa is the exploitation of the other party's ignorance, in order to cheat him… It includes any reduction in quantity or quality of the object or any kind of fraud…

With this understanding of onaa in mind, Rav Hirsch explains in the coming verse the terminology of onaa regarding hurtful speech.
The preceding verse prohibits onaa in business dealings… Our verse extends the prohibition to onaat devarim. Whoever verbally abuses his fellow violates this prohibition…

In particular, the prohibition of onaat devarim includes wronging another by words when their evil intent is apparent only to God; hence, the verse stresses “And you shall fear your God”…
Onaat devarim and onaat mamon have this in common: in both cases, one exploits another's weakness, his ignorance of the merchandise or his personal sensitivity.

While both forms of onaa involve exploitation of a weaker party, the And you shall fear your God” clause serves to highlight the distinction between monetary exploitation, which is noticeable, and the kind which can be covered up. As we will soon see, onaat devarim includes a number of subtle actions.

For this reason, the Talmud explains that yirat Elokim is relevant specifically in the cases in which one has the ability to hide his or her bad intentions through false claims of having meant something else; it is specifically in such cases that one will be judged more harshly. The cover-up is a sign of erasing God from the picture.
Back to top



Post Tue, Jun 01 2021, 3:42 pm
Continuing from Rav Zimmerman, above

The connection between the two types of onaa may also be found in the chapter in which the Torah teaches us these two prohibitions, the context of yovel.

Yovel and Onaa

To better understand the law we must analyze it in context. Why would verses discussing yovel be the source of these twin prohibitions?

As mentioned earlier, In Parashat Behar, while discussing the topic of the jubilee year, during which all purchased land must be returned to its original owner, the Torah teaches these two forms of onaa. The Torah demands that any price take into account the temporary nature of the sale. Since the purchase is effectual only until the jubilee, the land's price must be determined based on the number of years remaining until the onset of yovel. It is not only surprising that the Torah forbids onaat devarim in this context, but there is good reason to question even the placement of onaat mamon in this context. Interestingly, the prohibition of onaat mamon doesn't even fully apply regarding the sale of land; in Talmudic terminology, the principle is known as ein onaa le-karkaot. The Talmud (Bava Metzia 56a) derives from the Torah's reference to "buy[ing] from your comrade's hand" that onaa applies only to merchandise transferred by hand, I.e. movable property, not land.

The Ramban notes the glaring irony in this law, given that the Torah introduces this prohibition specifically amidst its discussion of the pricing of lands on the basis of their ultimate restoration in the jubilee year. If onaa doesn't apply to land sales, then why use yovel as the context for teaching the prohibition of onaa?

The Ramban therefore suggests that in truth, the prohibition of onaa applies to real estate, as well, and the Sages exclude real estate only from the rule that a sale is automatically voided if the purchaser pays an exorbitantly high or low sum. In terms of the basic applicability of the prohibition, however, it includes, in the Ramban's view, all types of property and merchandise.

However, the Ramban's comment notwithstanding, why teach the laws of onaa altogether in the context of selling land before yovel, if the laws of onaa do not fully apply in that context?

One might explain that the concept of yovel teaches us the temporariness of property, for which one's acquisition of another's rightful land can last no more than fifty years. If so, hopefully one will think twice before engaging in dishonest business tactics.

When one realizes that his ownership of the land will eventually be terminated, he will refrain from stealing and cheating.

(Melekhet Machshevet, quoted by Nechama Leibowitz)

One might add that understanding that God's system of ownership includes a concept of nachala, land that is set aside for a specific family eternally. The concept of nachala teaches us that property ownership is not all about real-estate value; rather, there is a divine purpose in owning property. One should analyze how his or her property can be used to benefit society, instead of seeing money as the be-all and end-all.

Rav Hirsch explains that the context of yovel also introduces a deeper level. He thus explains the Torah’s inclusion of yirat Elokim in this framework:

“And you shall fear your God” is the direct result of shemitta and yovel, as regards the communal life of the people of the land. These laws introduce the name of God into all of commercial life and bring the thought continually to mind that all people live and work together on the soil of God, in the land of God, where God is the master of all property; as tribute, He demands that His rule be implemented in every phase of life.

Rav Hirsch continues by stating that if there is one thing that the sabbatical year, during which one must not work the land, teaches us, it is that God is concerned with the marketplace as well:

God watches over all of communal life, for God does not dwell only in the sanctuary. Rather, He dwells in the midst of the people and blesses its commerce. However, God bestows His blessing only if commerce brings prosperity and happiness to all, only if one does not wrong and aggrieve the other and one does not abuse the position which he has attained to cheat the other. God bestows His blessing only if the truth of all truths, that He is our God, is realized in every phase of our lives, both as individuals and as a nation.

The next verse states that if the Jewish people follow the will of God, we will live securely upon the land. It is the recognition of the conceptual basis of shemitta and yovel, the need to treat others with dignity and to create a spiritual society in all aspects, which ensures the security of the Jewish way of life in the Jewish land. It would also seem that particularly in the Land of Israel, commercial and interpersonal perfection is necessary.
Back to top



Post Wed, Jun 02 2021, 8:20 pm
Continuing from Rav Zimmerman

In a similar vein, connecting business with speech is important because people often find themselves in the midst of competition saying things they maybe shouldn't have. On a practical level, connecting the need to conduct oneself ethically in business with the need to watch one’s words constitutes an added lesson about keeping one’s priorities straight when involved in speech connected to money making.

There might be a halakhic explanation for this interconnection as well. The Ohr Ha-chayim explains that despite the fact that even though ein onaa le-karkaot, there is good reason for the juxtaposition of onaa and land sales. He explains that any case of onaa which, for whatever reason, is not included in the technical definition of onaat mamon — such as overcharging on real estate — still falls into the category of onaat devarim. Essentially, the two types of onaa are linked in the sense that even if one tries to outsmart the system and overcharge on items in such a way that the sale won't be revoked, the use of sweet talk will ensure that the act will be a violation of the more severe onaat devarim.

Learning by Example

Onaat devarim is unique in the tremendous scope of cases included in the prohibition. The prohibition of onaat devarim is not limited to outright defamation or other forms of clearly harmful speech. In fact, it includes a broad array of cases which one might initially think are not so bad. Any form of causing pain with words is included in the prohibition; the examples extend beyond the expected.

The Mishna (Bava Metzia 58b) lists a number of examples of onaat devarim, one at least that is commonplace even among “good-hearted” individuals:

One should not ask a merchant “How much does this item cost?” if one has no intention of buying it.

The Talmud proceeds to provide examples of onaat devarim, including reminding an individual about a difficult past. This includes reminding a penitent individual about his former lifestyle or misdeeds, reminding a convert about his ancestors’ misdeeds or acting contemptuously towards a convert who wants to study Torah.

While these examples are readily understandable, the line to be drawn is not so simple. The Talmud essentially tells us that regarding every individual one interacts with, one has to think twice before speaking, to try and figure out whether their words may strike a negative chord, even unintentionally (sometimes just by reminding one about something “funny” from the past). Mistreatment of others includes not only saying things which are outright negative, but also hurting others by playing on their weaknesses.

Similarly, the Talmud notes that telling people in distress that their misdeeds are the cause of their predicament falls under the same prohibition. At some points, one might mean well, trying to influence others to repent for their misdeeds; however, the severity of onaat devarim is expressed in the fact that one may violate the prohibition even unintentionally (see Sichot Musar of Rav Chayim Shmuelevitz, pp. 328, 447).
Back to top



Post Thu, Jun 03 2021, 5:22 pm
Continuing with Rabbi Zimmerman

Practical Jokes are Halakhically Impractical

The Talmud specifically lists pranks and practical jokes as part of onaat devarim, and the Rishonim add cases of putting people on the spot. The Talmud mentions as an example of onaat devarim directing potential buyers to a merchant who does not sell the object they are interested in buying.

If donkey-drivers seek grain from a person, he must not say to them, “Go to so and so who sells grain,” knowing that he has never sold any. (Bava Metzia 58b)

The commentators debate how this falls under the rubric of onaat devarim. The Kesef Mishneh (Hilkhot Mekhira 14:14) quotes two possibilities:

He may have sought to embarrass the presumed vendor who has never sold fodder. This is also Rashi’s explanation. Alternatively, he may have tried to discomfit the donkey-drivers, presuming the merchant would rebuff them by saying: “What have I to do with the sale of fodder!”

Essentially the two opinions debate who the victim of onaa is in this case: the merchant or the drivers. However, the sources indicate that all forms of practical jokes played on others are included in onaat devarim. Yet it is here that the uniqueness of the prohibition really takes shape.

The Rambam (Hilkhot Mekhira 14:14) adds another example:

When asked a scientific question, he should not say to someone ignorant in the field: “What is your answer on this point?” “What is your opinion on this matter?” The same applies to all similar instances.

For all intents and purposes, one must not use his words to hurt others even if their discomfort is only the outgrowth of recognizing their ignorance; similarly, one may not use his words to set up a situation which may lead to the pain of another. The examples of the Talmud are in no way all-inclusive, as the Chinnukh (338) notes:

Nothing should be said to another Jew that may hurt or grieve him or leave him frustrated… but it is impossible to list all the examples.

In fact, while referring to the prohibition as onaat devarim would seem to indicate that words need be spoken to violate the prohibition, it is clear that the prohibition includes other cases as well. Body language, as well as any means employed to be hurtful to another, is encompassed by this transgression.

It's All about Intention

After listing the numerous forms of onaat devarim, including cases where one feigns interest in buying a product he or she cannot afford or has no interest in, the Talmud comments again on the Torah's mention of yirat Elokim in the context of onaat devarim. One must cognizant of the fact that many examples of onaat devarim include cases where one's true intentions are hidden.

For the matter depends on a person's intent, and concerning matters which depend on a person's true intent, the Torah says, “And you shall fear your God.”

Rashi explains:

“For the matter depends on a person's intent” — this is why it says “And you shall fear your God”… For one's good nature or bad nature is not discernible, but in the heart of the one performing the action. Are his motives pure or crooked? He may say, “I only acted for the good; I thought that you had produce to sell,” or “I honestly intended to buy this product.”

For the very reason that onaat devarim is so expansive and includes numerous circumstances where one’s verbal abuse is hidden and undetectable to others, the Torah specifies how one needs a special dose of fear of God to overcome the urge to hurt another. When one's bad intentions can be covered up with false claims of having meant something else, one deserves to be treated more harshly. The cover-up is a sign of erasing God from the picture. This is similar to misleading others in the context of yovel, as if one doesn't recognize God's true ownership over the land, which supersedes any human's.

The severity of the prohibition requires that we rethink our interactions with others to determine if any of our actions fall into these categories. Beyond indicating that onaat devarim is more severe than onaat mamon, the Talmud also states that God provides an immediate and direct response to victims of onaa, even when all other avenues of prayer to God are closed. Thus, before speaking, one must think one step ahead and consider in advance whether his or her remarks could cause another person any pain. Certainly one should realize that feigning innocence when using words or body language to hurt another only makes one more deserving of severe punishment.

Personal development is determined not only by one's interactions with others, but by one's behavior bein adam le-atzmo, the type of individual one becomes inside (as discussed in Year 1). What type of person would one be if he or she is constantly searching for avenues to maliciously malign others while hiding behind a guise of good intentions?
Back to top



Post Fri, Jun 04 2021, 10:40 am
Final section from Rabbi Zimmerman:

Exploiting Weakness

As we saw in the words of the Chinnukh and Rav Hirsch, the essence of onaat devarim is to aggrieve him when he is incapable of defending himself.” Nechama Leibowitz explains that the reason why people behave in this disdainful manner is the sense of superiority experienced by the one who lectures to his fellow man or preaches to a person in distress” (Iyunim, Vayikra, p. 550). However, weakness manifests itself in many different areas. Onaa can take the form of overcharging those unknowledgeable in business, committing practical jokes against merchants, using nicknames or any of the other examples we have seen.

The Torah teaches that there is no tolerance for mistreating others with words, as God knows our true intentions. The punishment for maltreating others is so severe because one who does so expresses a lack of understanding of all of the messages mentioned above.

The Torah goes beyond warning us about mistreating those who are in a unique position that prevents them from defending themselves; in a number of places, it specifies certain underprivileged individuals who require special treatment with extraordinary care so as not to hurt their feelings. In fact, the Torah requires that we go out of our way to show them compassion.

The unique prohibitions of mistreating the disadvantaged and unfortunate will be discussed next week.

Good Shabbos to all!
Back to top



Post Mon, Jun 07 2021, 10:10 am
Words that Hurt: Torah Laws of Onaas Devarim

Is the Offense Punishable?

We mentioned at the close of the introduction that monetary wrongs can be righted through payment, whereas onaas devarim cannot be repaired.

This distinction gives rise to an important halachic debate concerning the punishment for onaas devarim. The Maharam of Rotenberg (Prague, 785) writes that since the offense is a Torah prohibition, and because the wrong cannot be righted, a transgressor is liable for punishment by malkos (lashes). The Mordechai (Bava Metzia 306) likewise mentions that the offense is punishable by malkos.

The Beis Yosef (Choshen Mishpat 1) questions this assertion: How can the offense of causing emotional pain, which is perpetrated by words rather than actions, be punishable by Beis Din? Surely no such punishment is administered for offenses that involve no physical action? Indeed, we find in the Chinuch (338) that the punishment of lashes is not applicable because no action is involved. The Beis Yosef suggests that the Mordechai refers to rabbinic lashes (makas mardus), and not to a Torah-ordained punishment, but based on the wording of the Maharam this approach is somewhat strained.

A possible resolution of this difficulty is that the prohibition of onaas devarim is considered a branch of monetary onaah. Since the monetary offense does involve a concrete action, and would have been punishable by lashes had the money not been refundable, the offense of onaas devarim is likewise punishable. This follows the reasoning of the Maggid Mishneh (Sechirus 13:2), who suggests that a prohibition that could involve a physical action is always punishable by Beis Din, even when the actual offense was transgressed without an action.

The Chinuch, however, maintains that the prohibition of onaas devarim is distinct from the monetary counterpart. Following the Rambam (Negative Prohibition 251) he lists the prohibition as a separate Torah transgression. He, therefore, maintains that there is no punishment of lashes for the transgression of onaas devarim. Moreover, the Chinuch maintains that whenever a transgression was done without a physical action, it is not punishable by Beis Din even if could be could have been transgressed with a concrete action.

Back to top



Post Tue, Jun 08 2021, 9:40 am
Special Cases of Onaas Devarim

Although the prohibition against onaas devarim generally applies to all Jews (see below for exceptions), the Gemara stresses that one must be particularly careful to avoid hurting those who are most vulnerable.

An everyday case is a person’s wife. The Gemara (Kesubos 62b) relates how Rav Rechumi used to spend the entire year together with his mentor, Rava, returning home only once a year, on the eve of Yom Kippur. One year, Rav Rechumi was late. Immersed in his studies, he failed to notice that the time for his yearly trip home had come.

His wife, who had been waiting close to a year for the visit, became worried. “Perhaps now he will come,” she thought to herself, “perhaps now.” Yet there was no sign. Finally, concerned and distressed, she shed a tear. As the tear rolled down her cheek, the roof on which Rav Rechumi was sitting collapsed, and he fell to a tragic death.

Recognizing her special sensitivity, the Gemara (Bava Metzia 62b) teaches that one must be especially particular concerning onaas devarim of one’s wife: “Forever, one should be careful concerning the onaah of one’s wife, for her tear is swift to come, and her grief is at hand.” This special sensitivity is noted by the Shulchan Aruch (228:3), and the Be’er Heitev (4) comments that Hashem sees her tears and exacts retribution.

Additional cases of special sensitivity are converts (228:2), orphans (until they are old enough to fend for themselves) and widows (until they remarry). The two latter groups are described by the Torah as being particularly sensitive to emotional hurt, and the Rambam (De’os 6:10; Mitzvah 256) mentions that one must take extra care concerning their onaah.

An exception to the prohibition is a Jew who does not fall under the category of amitecha (your fellow), which the Gemara (59a) interprets as meaning, “with you in Torah and Mitzvos.” The Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch do not mention this exception, but it is ruled by the Rema (228:1; see Semah 3). The Chafetz Chayim (4:7) also mentions that there is no prohibition concerning causing anguish to a rasha, though the Aruch Hashulchan (228:1) writes that this is only true if one’s intention in doing so is that he should repent.

With regard to non-observant Jews today, the Shevet Ha-Levi (vol. 5, 51 [mitzvos]) rules that one may not cause grief to a tinok shenishbah (a Jew who does not observe mitzvos because he lacks the proper education). According to the Chazon Ish (Yoreh De’ah 14:2) most secular Jews today fall under this category.
Back to top



Post Thu, Jun 10 2021, 4:21 pm

A fascinating question arises in cases of retaliation. If someone finds himself under physical assault, he may defend himself in kind, in spite of the general prohibition against hitting one’s fellow. Even where there is no danger to life, one is not obligated to allow the assailant to continue his assault, and may strike back to fend him off (Choshen Mishpat 422:13)

Does the same principle apply to verbal abuse? Based on the parallel concept of physical assault, it would certainly be permitted to hurl an epithet that will stop the assaulting party from further verbal abuse. Under most circumstances, however, returning an insult just makes matters worse. Is it then permitted to retaliate in kind, or is the principle of retaliation related specifically to physical self-defense (see Rosh, Bava Kama 3:13), and therefore generally inapplicable to cases of verbal assault?

We may find an answer to this question in the very halachah that discusses physical retaliation, where the Rema appears to equate verbal and physical abuse: “So too, in cases of insults and embarrassments, he who started must pay the fine.” Just as the person who initiated a physical fight is held responsible for the affair and therefore liable to pay damages, so too in cases of verbal damages, the initiator alone is liable to pay the fine (there is no monetary penalty for grief or distress caused; there is, however, a monetary fine for causing shame and embarrassment).

The fact that the initiator alone is held responsible, whereas the person who responded is exempt from all liability, seems to indicate that a person who responds in kind to verbal assault has committed no wrong.

Yet, the Raanach (no. 50) explains that retaliation does not incur a penalty only when it is executed in the heat of the moment. In cases of verbal damages, such as embarrassment and shame, one is only liable to pay damages for words spoken with full intent and awareness (Choshen Mishpat 421:1), and not when the insult emerged in the heat of the moment. A similar line of reasoning is found in the Yam Shel Shlomo (Bava Metzia 8:42).

Thus, although there is no liability for spontaneous verbal retaliation, the question remains whether it is permitted to utter a calm and collected insult at the offender. Based on the ruling of the Raanach, somebody who makes a wounding insult in a calm and composed state of mind is liable for damages – even if the insult comes in reaction to the one who started the exchange. It follows that this type of insult is not permitted.
Back to top
Previous  1, 2, 3  Next  Last >> Recent Topics

Page 2 of 3 View latest: 24h 48h 72h

Post new topic   Reply to topic    Forum -> Judaism -> Halachic Questions and Discussions

Related Topics Replies Last Post
Do I join the gift giving club?
by Rivky
3 Sun, Jun 13 2021, 10:30 am View last post
Learning piano
by amother
6 Tue, Jun 08 2021, 7:48 am View last post
Join me!
by scruffy
0 Sun, May 30 2021, 1:27 pm View last post
Learning to apply makeup well
by amother
1 Sun, May 23 2021, 1:22 am View last post
How did you/your child with learning difficulties succeed?
by amother
27 Wed, May 19 2021, 8:32 am View last post