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Haftarah: Yirmiyahu 32:6-27

MAY 13-14, 2011 10 IYAR 5771


"When you make a sale to your fellow…do not victimize one another." (Vayikra 25:14)

There is a law in our perashah called "ona'at mamon." This is a prohibition against overcharging your fellow man when you sell him something. The Torah permits a certain level of profit but forbids one to cheat his fellow man in business dealings.

Let's cite an actual case and learn an interesting halachah. About a year ago there was a massive pipe break that left dozens of Greater Boston towns without a reliable supply of clean drinking water. The Boston Globe carried the story quoting Massachusetts attorney general Martha Coakley. "We have begun hearing anecdotal reports of possible price-gouging of store-bought water. Businesses and individuals cannot and should not take advantage of the public emergency to unfairly charge customers for water." Inspectors were being dispatched, spot checks were being conducted, and "if we discover that businesses are engaging in price gouging," she warned, "we will take appropriate legal action."

The next day the columnist Jeff Jacoby wrote an opinion column in the same paper, the Boston Globe, against the government intrusion. "There is an amazingly efficient system that stimulates suppliers to speed those resources to the people who need them. That system is the free market's price mechanism - the fluctuation of prices because of changes in supply and demand. When the demand for bottled water goes through the roof, the price of that water quickly rises in response. That price spike may be annoying, but it's not nearly as annoying as being unable to find water for sale at any price. Rising prices help keep limited quantities from vanishing today, while increasing the odds of fresh supplies arriving tomorrow."

Who is right according to the Torah law? The attorney general who wants to prevent price gouging, or Jeff Jacoby who wants the free market to function? Will the water sellers be guilty of "ona'at mamon" if they charge the high prices?

Rabbi Shlomo Cohen (Pure Money) cites a case that can supply us with an answer. "Daniel heard on the evening news that a typhoon was fast approaching Miami. He therefore decided to order a taxi to take him and his family out of the danger area. The first company he called wanted $1000 for a trip that normally costs $100. Angrily, Daniel hung up the phone, after telling them what he thought of their price-gouging. After a few more calls he realized that all the taxi companies were doing the same thing. He therefore reluctantly ordered a cab and escaped with his family from the danger zone. After the storm had passed he took the cab driver to Bet Din for having overcharged. The driver claimed that he merely charged the new market price. Answer: In this case the exceptional circumstance caused a rise in the actual market price of a taxi. Therefore, the taxi driver was entitled to charge this price.

According to this, columnist Jeff Jacoby was right! Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah

"In this Yobel year, you shall return each man to his ancestral heritage" (Vayikra 25:13)

The Jubilee year, the Yobel, came every 50 years of the Jewish calendar. Besides having the same status as Shemittah, the Sabbatical year, where no one may plant or plow, there was also an additional law that all lands and fields and houses must return to their original owner. As the Torah puts it, when one sells a field, it is basically a long-term lease until the year of the Yobel. The Rabbis tell us that the Yobel year must have been an amazing sight, to see everyone moving from property to property. Imagine the turmoil, the frenzy and the tumult! The lesson is to teach us that we are only strangers in the land; we are not here for good. Although this law is not applicable today, the concept is just as relevant as before. We tend to think of ourselves as permanent inhabitants of this world. We build and plan to live as if this is the final stop. Yobel should teach us that we are only guests here, hopefully for our full 120 years, but guests nonetheless. With this in mind, we can plan correctly for the final destination by making our time count with Torah and misvot. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka


It is customary to study Pirkei Abot (Ethics of the Fathers) during the six weeks between Pesah and Shabuot, one chapter every Shabbat.

"Everything is foreseen." (Abot 3:15)

Instead of Tzafui, foreseen, it should have said "known" or "seen".

The word Tzafui can mean floating. When one floats on the water, he makes an effort to keep his head upwards. The Mishnah is teaching that throughout his lifetime in this world, a person should imagine himself as floating in the ocean, so that to survive he must look upwards, look to Hashem and be attached to Him. (Vedibarta Bam)

* * * * *

A quick tip to boost the power of your prayer. Hazal tell us (Masechet Baba Kama Daf 92A) that Hashem loves the tefilot of one Jew for another so much that anyone who prays on behalf of a fellow Jew with similar needs will have his prayer answered first. A special service has now begun to provide people with names of others who find themselves in a similar predicament. You can call with complete anonymity and get the name of someone to pray for and give the name of someone that needs our prayers. The name of the service is Kol Hamitpalel. Categories include: Marriage; Income; Health; To have children etc.

Call to 646-279-8712 or email (Privacy of email limited by the email address)

Please pass this message along. Tizku L'misvot.

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