Parashas Behar

One of the segments of this week’s parashah discusses the prohibition on cheating in buying and selling (ona’ah). The Maggid offers a number of comments.
1. The Maggid notes that the segment begins by stating that the parties to a deal are not allowed to cheat each other regardless of whether the deal is a sale or a purchase. The Maggid points out that this phrasing is curious, since there is no such thing as a sale without a purchase or a purchase without a sale. The Maggid explains that the way a deal is labeled depends on which of the two parties has a greater need to make it. If the seller has a greater need, the deal is called a sale; if the buyer has a greater need, the deal is called a purchase. Thus, the Maggid says, the Torah is speaking of cases where one party has the upper hand because the other party has a pressing need. The Torah is telling us the party with the upper hand should not exploit his more favorable position to force an unfair deal.
2. The Midrash links the segment to the following verse (Mishlei 18:21): “Death and life are in the domain of the tongue.” The Maggid explains that the Midrash is hinting at how a dishonest merchant engages in double-talk, switching between two positions that are polar opposites of each other, just like death and life. When he buys goods from a wholesaler, he denigrates them, in order to induce the wholesaler to sell at a low price. But when he sells these same goods to customers, he praises the goods, in order to induce the customers to buy at a high price.
3. The Midrash comments further that when a person commits a pile of sins, it is the sin of theft that comes forward first to indict him. The Maggid explains the idea as follows. In line with an idea he developed in parashas Kedoshim (presented in a previous post), the Maggid states that Hashem decreed that we work for our living in order that the mitzvos we must perform in the process will protect us from the evil inclination. When a person cheats, he thwarts the whole system. Instead of accruing mitzvos in the course of making a living, he accrues a pile of sins. And since it was with the sin of theft that the person began his spree of sin, the sin of theft is the first to indict.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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