In the previous Halacha, we have begun discussing the prohibition of verbal oppression between man and his fellow and between husband and wife. We shall now discuss some of the laws of verbal oppression based on the rulings of Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat, Chapter 228).
The Gemara (Baba Metzia 58b) states: “Our Sages taught: ‘One shall not oppress his fellow,’ this refers to verbal oppression although it is not monetary cheating. What is verbal oppression? One should not affix his eyes to a sale when one has no money.” This means that one should not inquire about the price of a given item if one has no intention of purchasing it. Similarly, one may not enter a store where a given item is sold and ask how much it costs if one has no intention of buying it at the present time and only wishes to know the price out of curiosity, for the seller believes that his reply will yield positive results and that the inquirer may purchase the item. Thus, the inquirer will have transgressed this prohibition on the part of the seller.
Another example is, as follows: One calls an expert carpenter to one’s home to build kitchen cabinets. In order to know how to plan the modeling of the kitchen, the individual enters many large stores where kitchens are sold and troubles the sellers with his various questions merely in order to get an idea of how to design his personal kitchen in an esthetic manner and then to request from his personal carpenter to do this job. This is indeed considered verbal oppression since one is bothering the owners and workers of the store for no reason while they think that something will actually come out of all of his inquiries. The individual is merely taking advantage of their naivety.
A Ba’al Teshuva
If one knows an individual who is a “Ba’al Teshuva” (a non-observant Jew who has since repented), one may not tell him, “Remember your previous deeds (lifestyle),” for this causes the individual to remember his past sins and causes him needless pain. Similarly, one may not tell the child of converts, “Remember the deeds of your parents,” for this is likewise needlessly taunting him. We have mentioned in the previous Halacha that verbally offending a convert is more severe than offending others because we have been warned about this multiple times in the Torah.
The verse in the Book of Iyov (4, 6-7) states that when terrible calamities and suffering befell Iyov, his friends came to him and told him, “Is not your fear your confidence and your hope the integrity of your ways? Remember who ever perished being innocent?” This means that they meant to tell him that the calamities were befalling him because of his sins which only served to add onto his suffering and pain. The Gemara states that one should not say such things to someone whom suffering and punishments have befallen, for this is considered verbal oppression; Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch rules likewise. Nevertheless, the Perisha (authored by one of the greatest Acharonim, Rabbeinu Yehoshua Volk Katz, a student of the great Maharshal and Rama) writes that Iyov’s friends were correct in what they told him, for Iyov was busy justifying himself and though that, G-d-forbid, Hashem was acting unjustly with him. This is why they needed to rebuke him and convince him that the suffering he was experiencing was a result of his sins.