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Torah Attitude: Parashas Behar: Everyone is more worthy


The Torah prohibits buyers and sellers from deceiving one another. The Torah prohibits hurting a fellow Jew verbally. One may not inquire regarding an item one has no intention to purchase. One should not send someone on a wild goose chase. We are prohibited from reminding both the "ba'al teshuva" and the convert of their past. If someone is afflicted with pain and suffering, one may not tell him that the pain is a punishment for his misconduct. Verbal abuse cannot be reversed. Verbal abuse dishonours G'd. The prophet Eliyahu disguised himself as an ugly stranger to test a rabbi. In the world to come we find that the ones who were "seated up front" in this world may be "seated at the back" there, and vice versa. The Alshich and the Ramban in his letter to his son teach proper conduct. The Torah attitude is that you should look at every person as being more worthy than you.

Deceiving buyers and sellers

In this week's Torah portion, it says, (Vayikra 25:14) "When you make a sale to your fellow or make a purchase from the hand of your fellow, do not do injustice to one another." A little further in the text it says, (Ibid 25:17) "A man shall not do injustice to his fellow, and you shall fear your G'd" An obvious question arises, why is this prohibition of doing injustice repeated one verse after another? Rashi quotes from our sages that the first verse is dealing with business conduct. This is a prohibition that the seller may not deceive the buyer by overcharging. It also prohibits the buyer from deceiving the seller when he sells valuable merchandise for less than its value if the seller is not aware of its real value.

Verbal damage - no intention to purchase

The second verse is a prohibition against upsetting a fellow Jew through one's speech. The Talmud (Bava Metzia 58b) enumerates a number of examples. A person may not inquire about the price of some merchandise if he has no intention of buying it. It would therefore be prohibited to inquire about the price charged by one merchant in order to obtain a lower price from another merchant, or in order to confirm that one received a good price for merchandise already purchased. However, there is no problem to shop around and make inquiries to obtain the best possible price. For in this instance there is a real possibility that one will purchase the item from the vendor.

Wild goose chase

The Talmud continues to explain that a person may not give misleading advice to another as a jest or for some other reason. Included in this is that the Torah prohibits sending others on a wild goose chase.

Ba'al Teshuva and converts

Likewise we may not remind someone of his past misconduct. This especially applies to the "ba'al teshuvah" and the convert. We have to be very careful not to hurt them by referring to their lifestyle before undertaking their new commitments to Judaism. In regards to the convert, the Torah adds an extra prohibition as it says: (Shemos 22:20) "You shall not do injustice or oppress a convert " This teaches us how the Torah wants us to be especially cautious how we deal with those who have converted to Judaism.

Pain and suffering

Furthermore, says the Talmud, if someone is afflicted with pain and suffering, one may not tell him that the pain is a punishment for his misconduct. Anything that would hurt or upset the feelings of others is included in this prohibition as the Sefer HaChinuch (para.338) explains. The Sefer Yereim (para.51) takes it a step further and says that even to make someone uncomfortable by showing a disparaging or similar unjustified facial expression is included in this prohibition.

Serious offence

We see here what high standards the Torah expects of the Jewish nation how to conduct itself. No other judicial system would consider any of these examples as verbal abuse. However, it goes even further. Not only does the Torah prohibit this conduct, but the Talmud (ibid) explains that the prohibition of hurting someone else verbally is a more serious offence than harming the other person financially. The Talmud offers three comments in this connection: (1) in regards to the prohibition against verbal abuse the Torah says, "And you shall fear your G'd". That in itself indicates the seriousness of the offence; (2) when you hurt someone verbally, you hurt the person himself. On the other hand, when you hurt someone financially you are "only" hurting his assets; and (3) verbal abuse cannot be reversed. Once the damage is done, no apology or excuse can fully reverse the damage. This is not the case with respect to financial damages; in most cases they can be reversed through compensation.

Dishonouring G'd

The Alshich elaborates on the reason why the Torah concludes this prohibition with the words "and you shall fear your G'd". He explains that we should be aware that when we hurt another person verbally, we are not only showing disrespect for that individual, we are also being disrespectful to G'd. Every Jew has a Divine spark. If we taunt or ridicule others, we are actually ridiculing their Divine spark of G'dliness as well.

The Rabbi and the ugly stranger

The Talmud (Taanis 20) relates a story about a certain Rabbi who was returning home from his mentor. His spirit was very elated after learning so much Torah. On the way, he met an extremely ugly person. Our sages explain that this was really the prophet Eliyahu in disguise who had come to test him. As they met, Eliyahu greeted him. However, in his elated mood, the Rabbi did not return the greeting. On the contrary, he said, "You ugly person. Are all the people in your town so ugly?" Eliyahu answered, "I don't know but why don't you go to the craftsman that made me to tell him what an ugly vessel he produced." Immediately, the Rabbi realized that he had sinned. He lowered himself from his donkey, and prostrated himself in front of the stranger. He begged him for forgiveness. Eliyahu said, "I will not forgive you until you go to the craftsman who made me and tell him what an ugly vessel he produced." All the way to town, the Rabbi walked behind the stranger. As they arrived at the town, the townspeople came out to honour the Rabbi with due respect. Eliyahu asked, "Who are you honouring?" They answered, "The one who is travelling behind you." He said, "If this is a Rabbi, may there not be many like him in the Jewish nation." "What happened," asked the townspeople and Eliyahu related the events to them. The townspeople begged Eliyahu to forgive the Rabbi because he was such a great scholar. Eliyahu agreed to forgive him on condition that he would never repeat this kind of behaviour. After this experience the Rabbi gave a lecture and said, "A person shall always be humble and soft like a reed and not arrogant and hard like a cedar tree."

The world to come

The Alshich continues to explain that a person should never feel that he is more worthy than anyone else. Only in the world of truth we will find out who is really great and who is not. As the Talmud (Pesachim 50a) says, "In the world to come we find that the ones who were seated up front in this world may be seated at the back there and vice versa." There was a person who always honoured everyone he met and always felt that others were more worthy than him. He explained his conduct in the following way: "If the other person is younger than me, he is likely to have fewer sins than I. If he is older than me, he is likely to have more merits than I. If he is a greater scholar, I must honour him for that. If I am a greater scholar than him, then my wrongdoings are more serious than his because he was not aware of the pitfalls as I was."

Ramban's letter

The Ramban, in his famous letter to his son, teaches him to conduct himself in a similar way. He says, "If you meet an affluent person you must honour him for his virtues. If you are more affluent or smarter than him, you have to realize that your obligations are greater."

Exceedingly humble

This is what our sages teach us, "Be exceedingly humble in front of every individual" (Pirkei Avos 4:4-12). Look for the positive in every person and considered him being more worthy than you. With this kind of Torah attitude, no one will hurt or do any injustice to another.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel