Thursday, March 12, 2015

Words That Hurt

Onaas Devarim – Words that Hurt

by Rabbi Chaim Morgenstern

It is unimaginable for any G-d fearing Jew to earn a living by cheating (onaas mamom). However in our daily lives, we may be transgressing a more severe prohibition than cheating – onaas devarim. Chazal say that onaas devarim is more severe than onaas mammon because a) a person feels more distressed when his feelings are hurt and b) money earned dishonestly can be returned whereas hurt feelings cannot be undone [Bava Metzia 58b].

When we speak about prohibited speech, the first thing that comes to our minds is lashon hara. Although many of us are aware of the severity of speaking lashon hara, there seems to be a lack of awareness of both the scope and severity of the prohibition of onaas devarim.

General Principles
The Torah commands us "Lo sonu ish es amiso," – do not aggrieve one another [Vayikra 25:17]. Rashi explains this to be a prohibition against causing pain or anguish to another with words, hence the term "onaas devarim." Nevertheless, this issur is not limited to words, hurting another’s feelings in writing or with a gesture is also included in this prohibition [Chafetz Chaim,Chovas Hashemira ; Shulchan Aruch Hagra"z, Hilchos Ona’a] There is a famous homiletic saying on the passuk, "Ki ve’apam hargu ish," [literally, "in their anger they killed a person", Bereishis 49:6] with a mere "twist of the nose (af)," one can kill a person.

One does not have to give another person "a devastating blow" to transgress the prohibition of onaas devarim. The Chazon Ish writes that onaas devarim applies even if the other’s feelings were only momentarily hurt [Letters, Vol. 1 #211]. For example, if a person was distracted immediately after being hurt and does not feel the discomfort or emotional pain anymore. This applies especially with children, who may be easily distracted and then forget their previous distress.

The prohibition applies even when no one else is present, and applies even in the privacy of your home between husband and wife or parents and children [Shaarei TeShuva 3:214, Chafetz Chaim, P’Sicha, Prohibition # 13].

Embarrassing another or hurting another’s feelings in the presence of two other people is a more severe aveira, as it also includes the prohibition of malbin pnei chaveiro be’rabim, shaming another person in public.

Continue at Daf Yomi Review

“One who is careful not to hurt other people, all the blessings mentioned in the Torah will befall him and he will enjoy a pleasurable life in This World and the Next.” [see Letter from Rav Shteinman ]

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