| Halachah |

Not Just Words

The prohibition of ona’as devarim, “A person shouldn’t aggrieve his fellow,” is violated when one verbally causes another Jew emotional pain or anguish


Prepared for print by Faigy Peritzman

One of my sons likes to play music really loudly. My young yeshivah bochur informed his brother that this violates ona’as devarim. Why would that be?

The prohibition of ona’as devarim, “A person shouldn’t aggrieve his fellow,” is violated when one verbally causes another Jew emotional pain or anguish. This is a very serious transgression, since unlike a transgression involving money, which can be repaid if taken wrongfully and thus the situation rectified, pain can’t be removed once it’s inflicted. But playing loud music isn’t a violation of ona’as devarim. The brothers do, however, need to sit down and work out the appropriate decibel level of music they can both enjoy and tolerate.

My husband is a big teaser. When I get annoyed at his not-so-funny comments to me and tell him he’s doing something assur, he often pulls the card, “But no one else is in earshot!” Does that make any difference?

Although it’s obviously worse if there are other people around, the prohibition of ona’as devarim applies even in the privacy of your own home. If your husband’s intention is to cause you emotional pain or hurt your feelings, then he is violating ona’as devarim. Most often, however, a teaser’s intentions are playful and harmless, and he doesn’t realize you’re not enjoying his antics. Remind him.

My mother-in-law often calls my kids silly nicknames that embarrass them. When I try to explain this to her, she just shrugs it off, claiming they’re just kids.

If the kids are indeed embarrassed when they’re called by their nicknames, then it is forbidden for anyone to call them as such, even if the one doing so is their otherwise beloved grandmother. Since it’s obvious that the grandmother is clueless as to the harm she’s inadvertently causing, she should be told, gently but firmly, to desist from calling the children names that embarrass them.

I have a relative who unfortunately is anti-religious. My husband feels he has a chiyuv to mention to him his obligation to keep Shabbos, kosher, etc. If he’s not going to listen anyway, what’s the point?

We can never be completely sure your relative won’t pay attention to the message. As long as he doesn’t react in a disparaging or forceful manner, there’s nothing wrong with conveying to him the truths of the Torah and the beauty of a frum life. Sometimes it can take many years for results to be seen, and sometimes they never materialize, but we’re still not exempt from trying.

My roommate goes to sleep early and insists we have to be quiet so she can sleep. It drives the rest of us crazy. She claims that the issue falls into the category of ona’as devarim!

This situation has nothing to do with ona’as devarim, since no one here is looking to cause pain or hurt to the other person. Rather, this is a situation of two or more people, siblings or roommates, who share living quarters, but have different schedules, which may conflict with each other. As mentioned in a question above, they need to sit down together, and figure out a schedule that will work for all parties.

A friend of mine received a piece of jewelry as a gift, which I love, but I can’t seem to find it in any of the stores. I asked her repeatedly to sell it to me, offering a good price, but she refuses. Is it appropriate to keep on pressuring her to sell it to me or could that be ona’as devarim?

The Tenth Commandment, Lo Sachmod, “You shall not covet... anything that belongs to your fellow,” forbids pressuring or even coaxing a fellow Jew to sell an item belong­ing to him, even if the buyer is willing to pay whatever price the owner stipulates. Should the owner relent under pressure and agree to sell the item, it’s forbidden for the buyer to consum­mate the purchase. Lo Sachmod also applies when one pressures a fellow Jew to rent or lend him an item he clearly doesn’t want to rent or lend out.

The poskim debate whether or not pressuring another person to purchase something he clearly doesn’t want, by giving him an overly aggressive sales pitch, for example, is a violation of Lo Sachmod. Some poskim hold that the Torah prohibits coveting any item or object that belongs to someone else, including his money. Other poskim, however, maintain that Lo Sachmod applies only to coveting a specific piece of another person’s property or rare item that isn’t readily obtainable. It doesn’t apply to someone else’s commonplace item or to his money. As we’re dealing here with a possible d’Oraisa prohibition, one should be stringent and avoid any situation that could be a transgression of Lo Sachmod.

My son’s yeshivah requires each bochur to raise a certain amount for their building fund. My son wants to call all our relatives. However, I know some of them are having a hard time financially, but would still feel uncomfortable saying no. Would he be transgressing ona’as devarim by calling them?

It isn’t ona’as devarim to solicit a donation from anyone, even if you suspect they can’t afford to donate. First, you never really know another person’s financial situation. Second, it’s not necessarily embarrassing or painful for him to respond, While I’d love to help you, I’m unable to do so at this time, please come back at another time. This is something that takes place all the time. If, however, your son will not take no for an answer, and persists and pressures your relatives, he would then be in violation of Lo Sachmod, as discussed earlier.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 847)

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