Parashat Behar 5772
I’m sure you that either you enjoy shopping or you know someone who does. Is shopping permitted? If so, what is the proper way to do it?
Here are the relevant verses from this week’s parasha (Judaica Press translation):
Vayikra Chapter 25
14 And when you make a sale to your fellow Jew or make a purchase from the hand of your fellow Jew, you shall not wrong one another.
15 According to the number of years after the Jubilee, you shall purchase from your fellow Jew; according to the number of years of crops, he shall sell to you.
16 The more [the remaining] years, you shall increase its purchase [price], and the fewer the [remaining] years, you shall decrease its purchase [price], because he is selling you a number of crops.
17 And you shall not wrong, one man his fellow Jew, and you shall fear your God, for I am the Lord, your God.
Both Vayikra 25:14 and 17 use the word “wrong.” What is meant in each case?
Why does Verse 17 mention “you shall fear your God”?
The phrase “your God” appears twice in the English translation. Unlike Hebrew, Modern English does not distinguish between singular and plural in the second person. The first “your” is singular, but the second “your” is plural. Why the difference?
Two different types of wrongs are meant in Verses 14 and 17.
It’s clear from the context that Verse 14 is dealing with the act of buying and selling. The Gemara in Baba Metzia assumes that the two verses must be dealing with different types of wronging. It concludes, since Verse 14 is about financial matters, then Verse 17 must be about wronging someone with words.
Why did the Torah include a prohibition against wronging a person with words in a section dealing with business transactions?
Seforno links Verse 17 back to Verse 14. My understanding of his comment is that we might think that wronging someone by speech (misleading them or giving them faulty advice) is not so bad, even so, it is prohibited.
He then explains why the phrase “for I am the Lord, your God” uses the plural form of “your.” He is the God of both the buyer and the seller. In any business transaction, neither one is permitted to mislead the other.
HaEmek Davar says that often in business transactions the parties will make inflated claims. That is why the Torah states the general prohibition about verbally wronging a person in the section dealing with financially wronging a person.
Financial or Verbal Wrong – Which is Worse?
The Gemara (Baba Metzia 58b) explains that wronging a person with words is worse than harming them financially:
R. Yochanan said on the authority of R. Shimon ben Yohai: Verbal wrong is more heinous than monetary wrong, because of the former it is written, ‘and you shall fear your God,’ but not of the latter.
R. Eleazar said: The one affects his [the victim’s] person, the other his money.
R. Shmuel ben Nahmani said: For the former restoration is possible, but not for the latter.
The Amoraim are offering three different reasons why it is worse to harm a person with words.
Rabbi Yochanan bases it on the wording of the verses. Only the verse about verbal harm mentions the concept of the fear of God.
Rabbi Eleazar states that affecting the person’s body is worse than affecting their money. We all know that hearing shocking, scary, or embarrassing things can cause immediately physical effects.
The third opinion claims that financial harm is not as serious since there is the possibly of replacing the money. However, the physical effects mentioned by Rabbi Eleazar cannot be undone.
Is it possible that Rabbi Shmuel ben Nahmani would say that if the financial harm cannot be rectified, then it is worse to harm a person financially? I don’t think he would make this claim. What do you think?
Shop Until You Drop
Here is the Mishna from Baba Metzia Chapter 4:
10 Just as there is wrong in buying and selling, so is there wrong done by words. [Thus:] one must not ask another, “What is the price of this article?” if he has no intention of buying.
The Gemara (Baba Metzia 58b) adds another facet to the shopping issue:
Rabbi Yehudah said: Also, one may not feign interest in a purchase when he has no money, since this is known to the heart only, and of everything known only to the heart it is written, “and you shall fear your God.”
This is similar to the situation mentioned in the Mishna. There the person expressing interest in an object has no intention of buying. Here, the person has (currently) no ability to buy. In either case, it is a transgression of “do not wrong” to express interest in the object.
The Gemara explains that the phrase “and you shall fear your (singular) God” teaches us that God knows what was the intention of the speaker. The speaker’s intention may not be clear to anyone else who observes the conversation, but God knows what was in his heart.
We see from these statements that a person must be very careful when shopping.
When you are interested in making a purchase, it is permitted to comparison shop to determine the features and prices of competing products. If you know a certain object is out of your price range, then it is not permitted to pretend that you might purchase it.
You’re thinking about a Honda Civic that (based on a quick search) costs under $30,000. You know you can’t afford more than that.
You go to a dealer and see lots of cars in the showroom.
Besides the Honda you were thinking about, you spot a Chevy Camaro ZL1 (list price $61,000).
You really want to get a close look at that Camaro, but you know you can’t possibly afford it.
You have two options.
1. Just ignore it and get on with buying the Honda.
2. Explain to the dealer your situation. Say upfront that you cannot and will not buy the Camaro. But you’re really interested in getting a close look at.
More than likely the dealer will be happy to talk to you about the Camaro. But the dealer will not have any illusions about getting a fat commission check based on you buying that car.
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