Ona'at Mamon and Ona'at Devarim Noam J. Davidovics


In this week's Parsha, the Torah discusses the laws involved in Ona'at Devarim and Ona'at Mammon, hurting another Jew's feelings and cheating someone financially.  These two Mitzvot are ones which should guide our daily lives.

In regard to Ona'at Mammon the Torah warns, "If you sell or buy anything from another Jew, do not deceive him" (52:41).  A Jew may not ask a greater price for an item from an ignorant person who is unaware of the merchandise's value.  If one does so then he has transgressed this prohibition.  Likewise, if a seller is unaware of the true value of an item, the buyer is not allowed to buy it for a cheap price.

In regard to Ona'at Devarim, the Torah mentions numerous ways in which it is forbidden to offend somebody verbally.  Such examples are reminding someone of his parent's misbehavior.  If you see somebody suffering you may not maliciously tell him it is his fault because he sinned.  If one does not intend to buy an article he may not give the seller the impression that he does.  If one is asked a question one should not reply rudely or purposely give an incorrect or misleading answer.  He may not call another Jew by an insulting nickname (Baba Metzia 85b).

These two laws clearly are related.  One must not commit any act of Ona'at Devarim in acts of business.  One should not reprimand someone for overcharging him, thereby insulting the seller and possibly destroying his business.  You must not discredit someone thereby taking away his only means of support.  In all these cases one would violate both the Ona'a of business and of verbal speech.

The discussion on Ona'at Devarim concludes by saying, "And you shall fear God" (52:71).  According to Rashi this has much significance.  In many cases a remark may seem harmless, while in the attacker's heart he knows his own malicious intent.  The only other person who knows is Hashem.  Hopefully the man will refrain from making these kinds of statements as long as he fears Hashem.

The Gemarah (Baba Metzia on 85b, asks which of these two sins, Ona'at Mammon and Ona'at Devarim, are more severe.  According to the Torah view hurting another's feelings is worse for three reasons.  1) By cheating monetarily he causes the victim to lose his property which is not part of himself.  By hurting his feelings you attack him directly in his heart.  2) One can always make amends for having overcharged someone, money can always be returned.  The harm caused by an insult though, can be irreparable.  3)  The Torah concludes its discussion of Ona'at Devarim with,  "And you shall fear God" showing the immense gravity of this prohibition.  The Gemarah in Kidushin 02a, states, "How careful must one be not to insult another!  When someone who was offended cries out to Hashem, he reacts immediately and punishes the offender.

We must all learn to respect each other in both a business and social atmosphere.  When the Jews of the world can achieve this it will be a true Kiddush Hashem.


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