The Perfect Antidote
Behar (Leviticus 25:1-26:2 )
When you sell to your friend or buy from your friend, do not cheat each other. (25:14)
Smack in the middle of its instructions regarding Shemitah, the Torah inserts the singular prohibition of onaah. “Do not cheat each other.” Why does it belong here? Furthermore, the laws of Shemitah apply to the usage of the land, requiring that it lay fallow for the entire seventh year. It is essentially real-estate law. But the law of onaah does not apply to real estate, since the dynamics of land prices are different. Why then does this law, which applies to movable property, appear in the midst of the Shemitah laws that apply to the land?
The Beis Av explains that the underlying concept of the Shemitah year is to impress on people that, in the final analysis, everything we have comes from Hashem. Do not think that the more you toil the more you earn. Here you will see that you can leave your land fallow for an entire year, and your livelihood will not suffer.
This concept very much negates the rationale for cheating. A person may think he can beat the game. He may think that his underhanded methods will bring him additional money that he would not have had otherwise. But if he honestly believes that everything comes from Hashem, he certainly cannot expect to outsmart Him. He may gain a few dollars by cheating, but then his air conditioner will break or his car will need a new transmission, costing him the same amount of money he thought he had gained. In the end, the bottom line will be what Hashem wants it to be.
If a person keeps the mitzvah of Shemitah, if he absorbs its message, he will understand that cheating is not only wrong. It is futile.
Let us follow this reasoning one step further. We have identified the connection between Shemitah and cheating. But onaah also includes onaas devarim, which forbids snide and scathing remarks to other people. What is the connection between Shemitah and this type of onaah? What do such remarks have to do with business dealings and livelihoods?
I once heard from my Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Yaakov Weinberg that the root cause of all putdowns is an underlying attitude of rejection. It is as if we were saying, “He does not belong. He should not be getting so much honor. I am smarter and better than he is.” And then we cut him down to size.
Looking more closely, we notice that the motivation behind the snide remark is really a lack of satisfaction with one’s own portion in life. It reflects an insufficient trust and faith in Hashem. Verbal abuse, therefore, stems from a lack of belief that the Master of the Universe is fully in charge. Therefore, the mitzvah of Shemitah is the perfect antidote.