Shabbat Behar

Candles Friday 27th May 7:58pm
Havdalah 28th at 8:53pm

This week’s reading from the Torah is concerned with the concept of servitude in all its various forms. The Torah tries, way ahead of its time, to ameliorate the psychological damage of servitude, of never knowing when one’s life might be one’s own again, free from obligations to others, free from carrying the burden of debt perpetually. Even today so many human beings are indentured or enslaved by circumstances. Legislation was designed to limit indebtedness, to give people the opportunity to try again, a second chance. As well as the command to employers not to be harsh or oppress their workers.

But tucked in amongst the legislation is the command “Al Tonoo” 25.14. The Talmud derives from this the laws of Onaah. Literally not to oppress people. And the Talmud divided this Torah principle into two separate issues. Onaah meant taking advantage of people in business. Where you knew they needed something, you had to avoid taking advantage either by overcharging, misleading or holding up the deal out of spite. In other words, it referred to what we call ethical business practices, one of the most ignored of all Biblical laws even amongst the supposedly committed.

The second use of Onaah is “Onaat Devarim,” not to use words, language, to oppress someone. This includes not just lying, bullying and raking up the past but it also means using language aggressively and brutally, the way so many politicians do nowadays. Speaking gently, softly with forethought and consideration is one of the core Biblical ideals. Brutality, physical, mental or verbal is a sign that such a person is not a good human being.