SALT - Motzaei Shabbat, May 9, 2020


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  • Rav David Silverberg
This week's SALT shiurim are dedicated in memory of
David Moshe ben Harav Yehuda Leib Silverberg z"l,
whose yahrzeit is Tuesday 18 Iyar, May 12
Motzaei Shabbat
            Following the Torah’s discussion in Parashat Behar of the laws of the yovel (jubilee year), it proceeds to instruct how these laws affect sales of property, in light of the fact that property returns to its original owner with the onset of the yovel.  The Torah warns, “Al tonu ish et achiv” (literally, “Do not wrong one another” – 25:14), which our tradition interprets as introducing the prohibition of ona’a – unfair pricing in commercial transactions.  The immediate context is the sale of property, which must take into account the transacted property’s eventual return at yovel, requiring the parties to set the price in accordance with the number of years remaining until yovel, which is the number of years of benefit the buyer will receive from the property.  More generally, the Torah here warns against misleading the other party by selling merchandise for an unreasonably high price, or buying merchandise for an unreasonably low price.
            The Torah appears to reiterate this command several verses later (25:17), commanding once again, “Ve-lo tonu ish et amito” (“You shall not wrong your fellow”).  However, Chazal understood this command as referring not to the prohibition of unfair pricing, but rather to the prohibition of ona’at devarim – hurtful speech.  The Torah here forbids intentionally insulting or upsetting people with words, and the Gemara in Masekhet Bava Metzia (58-59) gives several different examples of this prohibition.
            Rav Shlomo of Radomsk, in his Tiferet Shlomo, makes a comment about this prohibition of ona’at devarim which perhaps sheds light on its connection to ona’at mamon – unfair pricing in the marketplace.  He writes that one violates the command of ona’at devarim not only by offending one’s fellow, but also by projecting a misleading image of himself.  If one portrays himself as more pious than he truly is, thereby deceiving his fellow into treating him with greater respect than he actually deserves, then this, too, qualifies as a form of “ona’at devarim.”
            Merchants seek to earn money by selling their wares, and in their quest to increase their profits, they might be tempted to misrepresent their merchandise, to make it appear more valuable than it really is.  The Tiferet Shlomo observes that in a broader sense, we are all “merchants” seeking to earn people’s respect, admiration and friendship.  And in this ongoing quest, we are prone to making the same mistake as the unscrupulous merchant, misrepresenting our “wares,” our characters and achievements.  It is tempting to project a deceptively impressive image in order to “raise the price,” to increase people’s esteem for us.  The Tiferet Shlomo warns that such deception is unfair and inappropriate.  Just as it is wrong to deceive people into investing in tangible merchandise more than its real value, so it is wrong to deceive people into making an unwise emotional investment.  If we desire people’s respect and friendship, we must be prepared to earn it honestly and fairly by being people who truly deserve it, rather than simply trying to appear as people who deserve it.  The prohibition of ona’at devarim, according to this chassidic teaching, warns against deceptively “selling” our personalities and qualities, and demands that we avoid projecting a false image of ourselves in our quest for admiration and social acceptance.