Parshiyot Behar 5784: Ona’at Devarim — Verbal Oppression and Political Agendization of a Military High Command

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua, Behar is being sponsored by Ron and Rena Rosenberg and family of Ramat Beit Shemesh dedicated Lilui Nishmas for the Yahrtzeit of Rena’s Father, Baruch Yecheskal ben Yaakov HaLevi and dedicated for the safety of the Chayalim and the liberation of all hostages and and that they’re brought home whole physically, mentally and spiritually as well as for the good health and security of kol Am Yisrael. To the Rosenberg family, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshiyot Behar 5784: Ona’at Devarim — Verbal Oppression and Political Agendization of a Military High Command

by Moshe Burt

We open this vort with Torah stating:

“Each of you shall not aggrieve his fellow, and you shall fear your G’d; for I am Hashem, your G’d.” (Sefer Vayikra, Perek 25, posuk 17 rendered to English in the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash)

The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash provides commentary on the above posuk (page 699) :

“Each of you shall not aggrieve.” In verse 14, a similar expression refers to business conduct; here the phrase refers to not hurting people with words in personal relationships…. Lest one think that he can easily do so and no one will know that his intentions were malicious, the posuk concludes, “fear your G’d…”, for Hashem knows what is truly in man’s heart. (The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash citing Rashi on Bavi Metzia 58b)

The Sages (ibid, Bavi Metzia 58b) teach that it is worse to hurt someone personally than financially, because money can be replaced, but shame lingers on. Someone who embarrasses his fellow in public is like a murderer, and he will not emerge from Gehinnom.

Rabbi Goldin cites posukim from our Parsha in his Sefer, “Unlocking the Torah Text”, Sefer Vayikra and provides context and approaches regarding verbal oppression (ibid, page 228) :

“And if you make a sale to your fellow, or make a purchase from the hand of your fellow, do not oppress one another.” (Rabbi Goldin rendering to English Sefer Vayikra, Perek 25, posuk 14)

The prohibition emerging from this passage is identified in rabbinic literature as the prohibition of ona’at mamon, financial oppression.

Three posukim later, the text emphasizes: “And you shall not oppress one another, and you shall fear your G’d; for I am Hashem, your G’d.” (Rabbi Goldin rendering to English Sefer Vayikra, Perek 25, posuk 17)

Rather than interpreting this [latter] posuk as a reiteration of the warning against financial oppression, the rabbis explain that here, the Torah references the additional proscription of ona’at devarim, verbal oppression. (Rabbi Goldin citing Talmud Bavli, Bava Metzia 58b)

The specific term “ona’a” (oppression) also appears in conjunction with two other prohibitions in the text:

1/ Ona’at hager: Oppression of the stranger. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Shemos, Perek 22, posuk 20; Sefer Vayikra, Posuk 19, posuk 33)

2/ Ona’at eved: Oppression of a slave. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Devarim, Perek 23, posukim 16-17)

The Torah’s concern over oppression… is not limited only to attacks upon society’s weakest members, but extends to any unfair advantage taken of another individual during the course of the many interpersonal dealings that mark life’s daily routine. Behavior that causes needless mental anguish by highlighting any individual’s weak point falls into the prohibited category of ona’at devarim, verbal oppression

In a previous year’s Parshat HaShavua, we dealt with the first of these prohibitions: financial and verbal oppression, emphasizing financial oppression.

Our vort on Parshat Behar discusses verbal oppression as it relates to the impact and damage such verbal oppression can have, not only on the individual oppressed, but on the security of entire nation of Israel.

Such was the case of the arrogance of an IDF head of Intelligence demeaning subordinates, their fellow Jews, such that intimidation and threats of legal proceedings and incarcerations of subordinates, due to their warnings of an impending mass terror attack, seem to constitute an immense Chillul Hashem and have led us to the strategic military quagmire [noun: a situation from which extrication is very difficult] we currently face in winning this war, eradicating ALL of the terror animals of Hamas, etc. and Liberating the remaining hostages held by Hamas and their “innocent Gaza civilian” collaborators.

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin provides discussion regarding the pain caused by oppression in his Sefer, “Growth Through Torah” (page 294) :

In this verse [Sefer Vayikra, Perek 25, posuk 17] the Torah commands us to be careful not to say anything to another person that will cause him emotional pain.

Rabbi Shlomo Kluger commented: Some people are careless with the feelings of other people and think that they only have to be careful to observe those commandments which involve man’s obligation to the Almighty. But the truth is if a person is not careful with his obligations to his fellow man and speaks against them and hurts their feelings, he will eventually be careless with the commandments between man and the Almighty. Therefore in the same verse that Torah warns against hurting the feelings of other people, the Torah adds “and you shall fear the Almighty.” Failure to observe the first half of the verse will lead to failure to observe the latter half of the verse. (Rabbi Pliskin citing Imrai Shaifer)

Not only is it important to watch what [one] say[s] to someone, but also… tone of voice is crucial. …Shout[ing] at someone or speak[ing] in an angry voice causes hurt feelings and is included in the prohibition of this verse in Torah. Utilize… power of speech to build people up, not to tear them down.

Rabbi Goldin concludes (“Unlocking the Torah Text”, Sefer Vayikra, pages 232-233):

Across a wide-breadth of life experience, the uniform laws of ona’a remind us that oppression can take on many forms…. from the halls of commerce to the marketplace of ideas, the Torah uses the same terminology to consistently communicate Hashem’s demand for ethical behavior in every arena of life and to make one point abundantly clear: the weak will always be protected with the full force of Halachic law.

Oppression can be evidenced not only in extraordinary settings but in our own everyday, ordinary lives. Every time we take advantage of someone else’s vulnerability, through word or deed; every time we misuse a position of power (however transient that position may be), we fall prey to the sin of “Ona’a” and to all of its damaging consequences.

As with all interpersonal sins, the cost of such behavior is ultimately measured not only in the anguish that we cause to others, but in the ultimate price that we ourselves pay. Any temporary pleasure or gain that we may accrue through the performance of such [oppressive] acts ultimately pales in comparison to the irretrievable harm caused to our own sacred souls.

It seems to this author that Rabbi Goldin’s concluding words extend to the politically agendized governmental leaders as well as their military high command counterparts (noun: a person or thing closely resembling another, especially in function) where not only are one’s subordinates vulnerable to oppression by a military high command, but where Israel’s very security is at stake as a result of such oppression. And relating to Rabbi Pliskin’s discussion, these same individuals seem not to feel any obligation toward their subordinates, or to Hashem as well. They seem to oppress their subordinates in order to attempt to maintain their agendized schemes and power at an immense cost in injury, not only mentally to their subordinates, but to the security and well-being of Am Yisrael as well.

May it be that our Chayalim emerge totally victorious — eradicating, from the face of the earth, Hamas, their terrorist buddies and the so-called “innocent civilians” of Gaza who joined with Hamas in their murderous deeds, and that the Chayalim return home whole — physically, mentally and spiritually and that the Chayalim Liberate and bring home all remaining hostages. And may we see the restoration of true unity within Am Yisrael.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently re-settled in Gush Katif, once the IDF, by the Yad Hashem, destructs and eradicates the wild beasts of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, all other terror entities, and if necessary Iran, and that our brethren be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them, that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes and the oft-destroyed Yeshiva buildings in Homesh be rebuilt, as well as the buildings of Yishuv Elchanan, all at total government expense. May our Chayalim return from battle unharmed — physically, mentally and spiritually and may all of the hostages brutally taken by the wild beasts of Hamas be liberated and brought home to their families. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now in his fourth year at home in Eretz Yisrael and continues in a new chapter in his life. May Esther Yocheved bat Yechiel Avraham have an aliyah in Shemayim and may her spirit and memory continue to lift Jonathan to at least 120 years. May the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of nine years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we see, in 5784, the REAL Jews from the Ukraine and Russia as well as the US and Canada, the real Jews via matrilineal descent, make Aliyah enmass — via thorough review by Misrad HaPanim. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese Wuhan Lab corona virus pandemic and all like viruses and variants. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.