1997A Rabbinic look at the Sabbatical year lessons of Parshat Behar
Let the Seller Beware and You Better Watch Your Mouth
1 YHWH spoke to Moshe at Mount Sinai, saying:
2 Speak to the Children of Israel, and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land is to cease, a Sabbath-ceasing to YHWH.
3 For six years you are to sow your field, for six years you are to prune your vineyard, then you are to gather in its produce,
4 but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of Sabbath-ceasing for the land, a Sabbath to YHWH: your field you are not to sow, your vineyard you are not to prune,
5 the aftergrowth of your harvest you are not to harvest, the grapes of your consecrated-vines you are not to amass; a Sabbath of Sabbath-ceasing shall there be for the land!
6 Now the Sabbath-yield of the land (is) for you, for eating, for you, for your servant and for your handmaid, for your hired-hand and for your resident-settler who sojourn with you;
7 and for your domestic-animal and the wild-beast that (are) in your land shall be all its produce, to eat.
8 Now you are to number yourselves seven Sabbath-cycles of years "seven years, seven times" so the time of the seven Sabbath-cycles of years will be for you (a total of) nine and forty years.
9 Then you are to give-forth (on the) .... a blast, in the seventh New-Moon, on the tenth after the New-Moon, on the Day of Atonement,
10 You are to hallow the year, the fiftieth year, proclaiming freedom throughout the land and to all its inhabitants; it shall be Homebringing for you, you are to return, each-man to his holding, each-man to his clan you are to return.
11 It is Homebringing, the fiftieth year - it shall be for you, you are not to sow, you are not to harvest its aftergrowth, you are not to gather its consecrated-grapes,
12 for it is Homebringing, holy shall it be for you, (only) from the field may you eat its produce;
13 in this Year of Homebringing you are to return, each-man to his holding.
14 NOW WHEN YOU SELL PROPERTY-FOR-SALE TO YOUR FELLOW OR PURCHASE (IT) FROM THE HAND OF YOUR FELLOW, DO NOT MALTREAT ANY-MAN HIS BROTHER!
15 By the number of years after the Homebringing you are to purchase (it) from your fellow, by the number of years of produce (left) he is to sell it to you:
16 according to the many years (left), you may charge-him-much for his purchase, according to the few years (left), you may charge-him-little for his purchase, since a (certain) number of harvests is what he is selling to you.
17 SO YOU ARE NOT TO MALTREAT ANY-MAN HIS FELLOW, RATHER, YOU ARE TO HOLD YOUR GOD IN AWE, FOR I YHWH AM YOUR GOD!
YOUR TORAH NAVIGATOR
1. We are told that in the fiftieth year, all lands that were sold by their original owners are returned to them or [presumably] their inheritors. Because of this fact, it is up to the seller of a particular property to disclose how many years are left before it automatically reverts back to the original owner. It is considered "maltreatment" to conceal this information. Why is it the seller's responsibility?
2. Why does verse 17 repeat "So you are not to maltreat any-man his fellow?"
3. Why does verse 17 insert, "you are to hold your God in awe?" Mishnah: Just as [it is illicit] to maltreat someone in business, it is also [illicit to] maltreat someone with words. One should not say, "How much does this item cost" if he does not mean to purchase it. If a person had once led a sinful life, one should not say, "Remember what you used to do." If he was the grandchild of heathens, one should not say, "Remember how your ancestors behaved." As it is written: "You shall not maltreat the stranger, and you should not oppress him." (Exodus 22:20)
YOUR MISHNAH NAVIGATOR: Ona'at Devarim, the mitzvah of sensitivity
The word "ona'ah" (translated as maltreat) is used in two contexts, the financial and the personal. Just as price gouging is considered "ona'ah", so, too, are the examples elucidated in the Mishnah above. If one price gouges one is taking unfair advantage over another. How does this form of ona'ah relate to the "ona'ah" where one asks the store clerk the price of something he has no intention to purchase? Now, what do these examples have in common with the person who makes another recall the sins of his past?
Can we come up with a working definition of Ona'ah? The Gemara which comments and expands upon the Mishnah opens its discussion with an alternative tradition which was excluded from the Mishnah, but was recorded at the same time. When Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi compiled the mishnah there were many rabbinic discussions that were excluded from his collection.
Often times the later editors of the Talmud will bring those discussions which may either complement, expand, or take issue with what was stated in the Mishnah. This extra mishnaic material is called a Beraitha. Take a look at the Beraitha's explication of the verse "Do not aggrieve one another." Compare the examples listed in the Beraitha with the Mishnah and continue to create a definition of Ona'ah. (Now, remember those verses in Leviticus - The Talmud is about to deal with them.)
Gemara: The rabbis taught: "Do not maltreat one another..." (Leviticus 25:17 Is the verse referring to aggrieving someone with words or is it referring to aggrieving someone in business? When an [earlier] verse states, "When you sell to your neighbor, or buy property from him [do not maltreat one another.]" (Ibid:14) Here it is clear the context is referring to business, so therefore the other verse must teach us about aggrieving someone with words...
YOUR NAVIGATOR OFFERS A HINT Look up the verses and see them in their original context. Why do the rabbis assume that the verse in Levitcus 25:17 cannot be referring to business practices?
Now, back to the Beraitha. Gemara cont'...How does one maltreat someone with words? If the person had a sinful past, don't say to him, "Remember how you used to behave." If he was the child of converts, don't say to him, "Remember, how your ancestors behaved. If he, himself, was a convert who had come to learn Torah, don't say to him, "The mouth that once feasted on forbidden foods is coming to learn the Torah that was uttered from the mouth of the Mighty One?
Or, if someone fell ill, or he had buried a child, don't speak to him in the way that Job's friends spoke to him. As it is written: "Is not your piety your confidence, your integrity your hope? Think now what innocent man ever perished..." (Job 4:6-7)
If donkey drivers asked a person for straw, he should not tell them to "Go to so and so's for he sells straw for animals."--when he knows that the person has never sold it. Rabbi Yehuda says: One should not even cast his eyes on a purchase if he does not have the cash on hand, for this is something that is only known in the heart, and everything that cast his eyes on a purchase if he does not have the cash on hand, for this is something that is only known in the heart, and everything that remains in the heart bears the injunction, "[Do not aggrieve one another] and you shall fear the Lord your God..." (Leviticus 25:17)
YOUR TALMUD NAVIGATOR AGAIN As the Talmud struggles to give us a definition of ona'ah, it brings statements from many different rabbis, do these statements complement or contradict each other? The following Talmudic passage segues from defining ona'ah to a related issue. Note when that transition occurs. After they deal with the related issue they return to our issue of ona'ah. Note when you return to our issue of ona'ah.
The gemara is sequenced associatively, much the way our minds work naturally. When we're tooling down the highway, we start with one thought and then gradually go to the next...and the next...and the next...until...finally...you say, "How'd I start thinking about that?"
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said: "Maltreatment of someone with words is worse than maltreatment of someone in business. For when the verse is referring to business, the verse does not enjoin us to fear the Lord while when the verse refers to maltreating someone with words, it also tells us to fear the Lord. Rabbi Elazar said: "Maltreatment with words harms the body, while maltreatment in business only harms his property." Rav Nachmani said, "One is possible to respond to while the other is not possible to respond to."
The Tana taught before Rabbi Yitzchak: "Anyone who blanches the face [humiliates] of his fellow in public, is seen to have spilled his blood." Rabbi Yitzchak said, "Well spoken, For I have seen the redness drain from a person's face and he becomes pale." Abayye said to Rav Dimi: "What are they most careful about in the west [in Israel]?" He said to him: "Making a face blanch. For Rabbi Hanina said:
"Everyone goes to Gehennom except for three." "Does he really mean everyone goes to Gehennom?" Rather he must mean everyone who does go to gehennom ascends from there except for three, and these are the three:
Anyone who has relations with another man's wife.
Anyone who humiliates a person in public.
Anyone who calls someone by a disparaging nickname.
Isn't calling someone by a disparaging nickname, the same as humiliating him? Even if the name has become so familiar [that it no longer blanches the face of the person.]...Mar Zutra Bar Tuvia said in the name of Rav, although some think it was Rav Chana Bar Bizna said it in the name of Rabbi Yochanan in the name of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai: "It is better that one would throw himself into a furnace than humiliate another in public.
How do we know this? From Tamar, as it is written: [About three months later, Judah was told, "Your daughter-in-law Tamar has played the harlot; in fact, she is with child by harlotry." "Bring her out," said Judah, "and let her be burned."] As she was being brought out, she sent this message to [only] her father-in-law... (Genesis 38:25)
Rav Hanana the son of Rav Iddi said: Why is it written: "Do not maltreat one another..." (Leviticus 25:17) Do not maltreat him with the way you carry your Torah [study] and [your adherence to] the commandments. Rav said, "Let a man be careful about maltreating his wife, for when she cries, she is close to having been maltreated.
Rabbbi Elazar said: When the Temple was destroyed the gates of prayer were locked, as it is written: "Even when I cry out and wail, my prayer has been blocked." (Lamentations 3:7) But even though the gates of prayer have been locked the gates of tears have not been, as it is written: "Hear my prayer, O Lord; give ear to my cry; do not disregard my tears." (Psalms 39:13)
Prepared by Rabbi Avi Weinstein.