Wronging with Words
Mishnah – Just as there is wronging in buying and selling, - so there is wronging with words. The Mishnah cites several examples of verbal wronging: One should not say to someone, ‘How much is this item,” – if he does not want to buy it. If someone was a penitent, - one should not say to him, “Remember your past deeds.” – If someone was descended from proselytes, - one should not say to him, “Remember the deeds of your forefathers.” - For it is stated in the Torah: And you shall not wrong or oppress a proselyte.
Gemara - A Baraisa cites the verse that forbids verbal wronging: --The Rabbis taught in a Baraisa: - The Torah states: AND A MAN SHALL NOT WRONG HIS FELLOW. – THE VERSE IS DISCUSSING VERBAL WRONGING. –The Baraisa continues: -- Do you indeed say that the verse DEALS WITH VERBAL WRONGING, - OR IS IT NOT RATHER DEALING WITH MONETARY WRONGING (i.e. price fraud)?
The Baraisa answers: --When (the verse) states: - IF YOU SELL SOMETHING TO YOUR FELLOW OR BUY FROM THE HAND OF YOUR FELLOW, one man shall not wrong his brother, - WRONGING IN MONETARY MATTERS IS ALREADY MENTIONED. –HOW, THEN, DO I EXPLAIN THE VERSE AND A MAN SHALL NOT WRONG HIS FELLOW: -- It must deal with VERBAL WRONGING.
IF SOMEONE HAD SUFFERING VISITED UPON HIM, -- OR IF SOMEONE HAD DISEASES VISITED UPON HIM - OR IF SOMEONE BURIED HIS CHILDREN, - ONE SHOULD NOT SAY TO HIM IN THE WAY THAT THE COLLEAGUES OF JOB SAID TO HIM. – COULD NOT YOUR FEAR (OF HASHEM) HAVE GIVEN YOU YOUR CONFIDENCE, YOUR HOPE, THE INTEGRITY OF YOUR WAYS? DO RECALL WHO IS THE INNOCENT THAT WAS EVER LOST WITHOUT A TRACE.
IF DONKEY DRIVERS WERE SEEKING IN SEARCH OF WORK GRAIN FROM SOMEONE SO THAT THEY COULD TRANSPORT IT, -- HE SHOULD NOT SAY TO THEM, “GO TO SO -AND -SO WHO SELLS GRAIN,” WHEN HE KNOWS THAT (THIS PERSON) NEVER SOLD GRAIN in his life. – R’YEHUDAH SAYS: - A PERSON SHOULD NOT EVEN EYE MERCHANDISE WHEN HE DOES NOT HAVE MONEY to buy it.
The Baraisa notes that the Torah juxtaposes the prohibition against verbal wronging with the obligation to fear God, and explains why: -- FOR THE MATTER DEPENDS on a person’s intent, which is hidden from other mortals –and concerning any matter that depends on the person’s INTENT; -- IT IS STATED: AND YOU SHALL FEAR YOUR GOD.
The Gemara cites some Tannaic teachings about the gravity of verbal wronging: - R’Yochanan said in the name of R’Shimon ben Yochai: Verbal wronging is a greater sin than monetary wronging (i.e. price fraud). For concerning this, i.e. verbal wronging, it is stated: And you shall fear your God, whereas concerning this, i.e. monetary wronging, it is not stated: And you shall fear your God. –And R’Elazar says that verbal wronging is more serious for another reason: - This (i.e. verbal wronging) affects his (the victim’s) very self, - whereas this (i.e. monetary wronging) affects only his (the victim’s ) money. –R. Shmuel bar Nachmani said: --With this, i.e. monetary wronging, restitution is possible; - but with this, i.e. verbal wronging, restitution is not possible.
The Gemara cites another example of verbal wronging and discusses its severity: -- A Tanna taught the following Baraisa in the presence of Rav Nachman bar Yitzehak: -- IF ANYONE MAKES HIS FRIEND’S FACE TURN WHITE from shame IN PUBLIC, - IT IS AS IF HE HAS SPILLED BLOOD, i.e. murdered the friend. He (Rav Nachman bar Yitchak) said to(the Tanna)ll: --What you are saying is right, -- because I have seen how the red coloring leaves the face of an embarrassed person and his face turns white.
The Gemara continues to discuss this idea: -- Abaye said to Rav Dimi: --About what are they careful in the West. – (Rav Demi) answered him: -- They are careful about not embarrassing people. For R’Chanina said: -- All descend to Gehinnom except for Three.
The Gemara interrupts its presentation of R’Chanina’s statement with a clarifying remark: --Can it even enter your mind that literally all descend to Gehinnom? That is surely impossible! Rather, say: -- All those who descend to Gehinnom soon ascend except for three, --who descend but do not ascend.
The Gemara now resumes its presentation of R’Chanina’s teaching: --And these are (the three): Someone who cohabits with another man’s wife, --and someone who makes his friend’s face turn white from shame in public, - and someone who calls his friend an embarrassing nickname.
The Gemara discusses how careful one must be to avoid offending his wife: - Rav said: - A person must always be wary of verbally wronging his wife, - for since her tears come easily, -the punishment for wronging her is nearby, i.e. not long in coming. The Gemara substantiates the assertion that tearful prayer is answered swiftly. –R ’Elazar said: From the day that the Temple was destroyed, -- the heavenly gates of prayer were locked and our prayers are not answered as readily as before, -- as it is stated: Even when I cry out and plead, he stifles my prayer. But even though the heavenly gates of prayer have been locked, - the heavenly gates of tears have not been locked, -- for it is stated: Hear my prayer, O God, and listen to my out cry; you will not be deaf to my tears.
The Gemara returns to its discussion about the severity of wronging another person: - Rav Chisda said: --All the Heavenly gates of prayer are locked except the gates for wrongful treatment. – For it is stated: And behold God stood upon a wall made with a plumb line, and in His hand was a plumb line. This indicates that God metes out strict retribution to someone who wrongs his fellow.
The Gemara continues to discuss the severity of wronging: --R”Abahu said: There are three offenses for which the curtain does not close: -- Wronging, robbery, and idol worship. – “Wronging,” – as it is written: And in his hand was a plumb line; -- “robbery”, - as it is written: Plunder and spoil is heard in her (Jerusalem) continually to My face; - idolatry, - as it is written: A people that provoke me to anger continually to My face etc.
Having discussed the severe consequences of verbal wronging, the Gemara now suggests a way to avoid domestic quarrels:
Rav Yehudah said: --A person should always be careful to have adequate grain (i.e. food) in his house, --for quarrels are most commonly found in a person’s home on account of grain,--as it is stated: He makes your borders peaceful, and with the cream of the wheat he sates you. – Rav Pappa said: - This reflects what people say: - When the barley in the container is finished, the sounds of quarrel begin to reverberate in the house.
Having previously noted the importance of not wronging one’s wife, the Gemara now emphasizes how important it is to respect her: -- And R’ Chelbo said: -A person must always be careful about his wife’s honor, because blessing is found in a person’s house only on account of his wife. –As it is stated: And he (Pharaoh) treated Avram well on her (Sarah’s) account. –And this is what Rava meant when he told the people of Mechoza: - Honor your wives in order that you may become wealthy.
The following Mishnah alludes to an incident in which a Tanna was offended. After quoting the Mishnah, the Gemara relates the incident and how quickly his prayers were answered: --We have learned there in a Mishnah – If SOMEONE CUT SECTIONS (FOR AN OVEN) – AND PUT SAND BETWEEN THE SECTIONS to cement them together and the oven then came into contact with tumah, -- R’ELIEZER DECLARES IT TAHOR – BUT THE SAGES DECLARE IT TAMEI. - AND THIS IS THE OVEN OF THE COILED SERPENT.
The Gemara explains: -- What is meant by “the coiled serpent?” – Rav Yehudah said in the name of Shmuel – it means that they (the Sages) surrounded the oven with discussions like this coiled snake, and then declared it susceptible to tumah.
A Baraisa tells us about the debate surrounding this oven: - A Baraisa taught: --on that day, R. Eliezer advanced all the arguments in the world to defend his lenient ruling, - but (the Sages) did not accept his argument. - (R’ELIEZER SAID TO THEM: - IF THE HALACHAH ACCORDS WITH ME, -- LET THIS CAROB TREE PROVE IT, - WHEREUPON THE CAROB TREE WAS UPROOTED FROM ITS PLACE AND MOVED ONE HUNDRED AMOS. – AND SOME SAY it moved FOUR HUNDRED AMOS – Unconvinced, (THE SAGES) SAID TO HIM: - YOU CANNOT BRING PROOF FROM A CAROB TREE. – He then said to them: - IF THE HALACHAH ACCORDS WITH ME, -- LET THE WATER CANAL PROVE IT – WHEREUPON THE WATER IN THE WATER CANAL FLOWED BACKWARD. – (THE SAGES) SAID TO HIM: - YOU CANNOT BRING PROOF FROM A WATER CANAL. –HE THEN SAID TO THEM: -- IF THE HALACHAH ACCORDS WITH ME, -- LET THE WALLS OF THE STUDY HALL PROVE IT, -- WHEREUPON THE WALLS OF THE STUDY HALL LEANED AND WERE ABOUT TO FALL. – IMMEDIATELY, R’YEHOSHUA REBUKED(THE WALLS) – AND SAID TO THEM: - IF TORAH SCHOLARS VIE WITH ONE ANOTHER IN DISCUSSIONS ABOUT HALACHAH, -- WHAT BUSINESS IS IT OF YOURS? – (the walls) did not fall, out of respect for R’Yehoshua; - but neither did they right themselves out of respect for R’Elizer. -- and they still continue to lean to this day. – (R’ELIEZER) THEN SAID TO (THE SAGES): - IF THE HALACHAH ACCORDS WITH ME, LET HEAVEN PROVE IT; - whereupon a Heavenly echo went forth and proclaimed: - WHAT ARGUMENT TO YOU HAVE WITH R’ELIEZER, --WHOM THE HALACHAH FOLLOWS IN ALL PLACES! -- Upon hearing this, R’YEHOSHUA STOOD ON HIS FEET AND DECLARED:
It (the Torah) is not in heaven.
The Gemara interjects: - What is meant by: It is not in Heaven? – R’Yirmiyah said: It means that we pay no heed to a Heavenly echo in matters of halachah, for the Torah was already given to man at Mount Sinai. The Gemara relates the rest of R’Yehoshua’s response to the Heavenly echo: -- WE DO NOT PAY ATTENTION TO A HEAVENLY ECHO. – BECAUSE YOU (GOD) ALREADY WROTE IN THE TORAH AT MOUNT SINAI. – ACCORDING TO THE MAJORITY (THE MATTER) SHALL BE DECIDED. And since the majority of the Sages dispute R’Eliezer’s position, his position is rejected in practice.
The following incident dramatically highlights R’Yehoshua’s assertion: - R’Nassan once met Elijah. - and said to him:
What was the Holy One, Blessed is He, doing at that moment when R’Yehoshua rejected the Heavenly signal? --(Elijah) responded to him: - He (the Holy One) was laughing and saying: - “My children have prevailed over Me, My children have prevailed over Me.”
A number of drastic developments followed the debate concerning the oven and the Baraisa records them: -- THEY SAID that ON THAT DAY (THE SAGES) COLLECTED ALL THE THINGS R’ELIEZER HAD DECLARED TAHOR – AND BURNED THEM IN FIRE in his presence. – AND THEY VOTED ON HIM AND EXCOMMUNICATED HIM.
THEY SAID: WHO WILL GO AND INFORM HIM? – R’AKIVA SAID TO THEM: -- I WILL GO - for I am concerned that PERHAPS AN UNFIT PERSON WILL GO AND INFORM HIM. – AND BRING ABOUT THE DESTRUCTION OF THE ENTIRE WORLD. – WHAT DID R’AKIVA DO to inform R’Eliezer? – HE DRESSED IN BLACK clothing, AND CLOAKED HIMSELF IN BLACK, - AND SAT BEFORE (R. ELIEZER) AT A DISTANCE OF FOUR AMOS. – R’ ELIEZER SAID TO HIM: - AKIVA, WHY IS TODAY DIFFERENT FROM OTHER DAYS? Why are you sitting so far away from me today? - (R’AKIVA) REPLIED TO HIM: - MY TEACHER, IT SEEMS TO ME THAT YOUR COLLEAGUES ARE REMOVED FROM YOU. Upon hearing this (R’ELIEZER) TOO, TORE HIS GARMENTS, AND REMOVED HIS SHOES, AND SLID OFF his chair AND SAT ON THE GROUND. -- TEARS FLOWED FROM HIS EYES. --At that time THE WORLD WAS SMITTEN: A THIRD OF the world’s OLIVES, A THIRD OF its WHEAT and A THIRD OF ITS BARLEY became ruined. – EVEN DOUGH ALREADY IN A WOMAN’S HANDS BECAME SPOILED.
The Gemara cites another Baraisa that describes the aftermath of that day: -- A Baraisa taught: - A GREAT BLOW OCCURRED ON THAT DAY, - FOR EVERY PLACE ON WHICH R’ELIEZER SET HIS EYES WENT UP IN FLAMES.
AND it EVEN happened that RABBAN GAMLIEL the Nasi WAS COMING IN A BOAT – AND A GALE THREATENED TO DROWN HIM. HE SAID: - IT SEEMS TO ME THAT THIS IS ONLY BECAUSE OF R’ELIEZER BEN HORKYNOS. – (RABBAN GAMLIEL ) STOOD ON HIS FEET AND SAID: - MASTER OF THE UNIVERSE, -- IT IS WELL KNOWN TO YOU – THAT I DID NOT DO THIS (i.e order R’Eliezer’s excommunication) FOR MY OWN HONOR – OR FOR THE HONOR OF MY FATHER’S HOUSEHOLD -- BUT YOUR HONOR - SO THAT DISPUTES NOT PROLIFERATE IN ISRAEL. – Whereupon, the SEA SUBSIDED FROM ITS RAGING.
The Gemara records another consequence of R’Eliezer’s excommunication: - Ima Shalom, the wife of R’Eliezer, - was the sister of Rabban Gamliel, -- from that incident (in which Rabben Gamliel excommunicated R’ Eliezer) onwards, - she did not let R’ Eliezer fall on his face, i.e. recite the tachanun supplication. – One day she thought that it was Rosh Chodesh, when the tachanun supplication is not recited, - but she had confused a full month with a deficient one. – There are those who say that a poor person came and stood at the door as R’Eliezer was about to recite the tachanun supplication, - and she took bread out to him. – Either way, she afterwards found (R’Eliezer) falling on his face in the recitation of tachanun, -- She said to him: - Get up! You are killing my brother!