The Parsha Discussion: Behar — Words Hurt

Posted by Alex Israel on May 2, 2018
Topics: The Parsha Discussion, Behar

Our parsha is the source for just how sensitive the Torah is to abusive speech. The prohibition of “Onaat Devarim” – verbal oppression – is articulated by Maimonides in the following manner:

For instance, if a person is newly religious one must not say to him: Remember your former deeds.

If a convert comes to study Torah, one must not say to him: Shall the mouth that ate unclean and forbidden food study Torah which has been given by the Lord?

If a person has been afflicted with disease and suffering, or if he has buried his children, one must not say to him in the words used by Job’s companions in addressing Job: …what guiltless man has ever perished? (Job 4:6-7). (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Sales 14:13)

Please discuss:

  • What do each of these cases have in common?
  • Why should a person not remind a penitent or a convert of his former life?
  • Why should a person refrain from suggesting that an individual is suffering because of their sins?
  • What are the friends of this sufferer thinking? Do they intend to heal or to harm? If they intend to heal, then what’s the problem?

Click here to read more from Rabbi Alex Israel on Parshat Behar: Words Hurt.

About Alex Israel

Alex teaches Bible at Pardes and is the Director of the Community Education Program and the Summer Program. Alex was born and raised in London. He holds degrees from London School of Economics, the Institute of Education London and Bar-Ilan University. Alex studied at Yeshivat Har Etzion under Rav Aharon Lichtenstein and Rav Yehudah Amital, and gained Rabbinic ordination from the Israeli Rabbinate. Click here to read more.

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