Feeling the Pain of Others
Taste of Parasha
In the town of Zhitomir, there lived a man known to all as Hirsch Ber. Hirsch Ber was a man who had endured one setback after another, both in personal and business ventures. It was Erev Yom Kippur just befor Kol Nidrei; each man sat in front of the gleaming white Paroches covering the Aron Kodesh, reciting the personal prayer of penitence known as Tefillas Zakah. Having just been berated by his wife for not providing their family with an adequate meal before the fast, Hirsch Ber humbly took his place at the back of the shul. A thought occurred to him that perhaps he could lift his spirits and achieve the proper mind set for this Holy day if he could get a “shmeck tabak” (a sniff of strong, sharp snuff). He gingerly made his way up to the front of the shul where the wealthy industrialist, R’ Boruch was sitting. He placed his hand on R’ Boruch’s back: “Perhaps a shmeck tabak , R’ Boruch?”, he asked softly. R’ Boruch was annoyed. Who could be bothering him now as he sat praying Teffilas Zakah? He turned around in disgust and said, “Hirsch Ber, in the middle of Teffilas Zakah?” Hirsch Ber was embarrassed and humiliated. Red faced, he turned around and walked back to his seat muttering to himself, “Ribbono Shel Olam, am I not worth a shmeck tabak?”. His simple plea caused an uproar in the heavenly courts and it was decreed that in the New Year the tables would be turned. The day after Yom Kippur, Hirsch Ber received a visit from his cousin and was given a substantial loan which he invested in a new business from which he eventually became quite wealthy. At the same time R’ Boruch began to have a reversal in his fortune, until he was the one mired in poverty. Rabbeinu Bachaye writes, “one who has been abused is in severe pain and his heart and mind become humbled, when he cries out with emotion to G-d from his wounded heart, G-d listens”. Adapted from Rabbi Paysach J. Krohn, The Maggid Speaks, Page 92.
Taste of Talmud
The Talmud in the fourth chapter of Bava Metzia deals with the laws of Ona’ah (oppression). There are two main categories with which the Talmud deals. The first is connected to pecuniary or monetary oppression; the second is verbal or psychological abuse. From the repetition of the phrase, “do not oppress your friend” in verses 14 and 17 of Chapter 25 in Leviticus we learn that there is a biblical injunction against causing pain to a fellow Jew in any manner. It is even considered to be oppression when a merchant charges more than one sixth above the fair market value to a naïve consumer. It is likewise forbidden for a consumer to finagle an object away from a proprietor for a price that is lower than the fair market value of that object by as little as a sixth. Mental anguish and embarrassment are among the worst things a person can do to another. An example which the Talmud cites (Bava Metziah 58b) is if you are asked, “Where could I buy grain?” and you choose to play a practical joke on the person and send him to Chaim, when you know that Chaim never sold grain in his life, this is Ona’ah.
Taste of Halacha
It is a tragedy when a person needs to sell a personal belonging in order to provide for the basic needs of his family. Such a situation cannot be endured for an extended period of time. Any person who has this need is clearly desperate for a temporary solution to provide basic necessities. There is a question in the laws of ona’ah regarding circumstances such as these. When a person in difficult straits is looking for a buyer for his possessions, may he try to get double the fair market value for his object or do the regular rules of ona’ah apply? Based on a similar case in Bava Metzia 51a, the Shulchan Aruch in CM 226:23 says, “The regular rules of ona’ah are suspended”. When the buyer knows the reason for the sale of a man’s personal belonging, it is like the owner is stating upfront, “I am only selling this to you because I am desperate for cash. I need to sell it to you for a price that is above the fair market value.” In this case, since both parties are in agreement as to the terms of the sale, they are not in violation of the laws of ona’ah.