The pasuk in Vayikrah (25:17) tells us:
ולא תונו איש את עמיתו ויראת מאלקיך
Chazal explain that this pasuk refers to the Biblical prohibition to cause one pain or to inflict through words, ona’as devorim. The Rambam and the Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 338) count this as one of the 613 mitzvos.
This halacha is mentioned in Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 228:1:
כשם שאונאה במקח וממכר כך אונאה בדברים וגדולה אונאת דברים מאונאת ממון שזה ניתן להשבון וזה לא ניתן להשבון זה בגופו וזה בממונו והצועק על אונאת דברים נענה מיד
Just as there is an aveirah of ona’ah in monetary matters (monetary extortion), so too there is an aveirah of ona’ah with words. And verbal ona’ah is worse, because monetary ona’ah can be reimbursed, whereas verbal ona’ah cannot. Furthermore, monetary ona’ah is sinning merely with one’s money, whereas verbal ona’ah is with one’s body. And one who cries out in pain for being a victim to ona’as devorim is answered by Hashem immediately.
The Shulchan Aruch continues (ibid 5):
יזהר שלא לכנות שם רע לחבירו, אע”פ שהוא רגיל באותו כנוי, אם כוונתו לביישו, אסור
One needs to be careful not to call someone by a pejorative, because even if one is used to being referred to by that name, if you are doing it to to embarrass him, it is forbidden.
Do you know anyone that likes being called an anti-vaxxer?
Do you know anyone who likes being called a rotzei’ach or rodef while they are perfectly healthy, simply because they choose to adopt a method of health that’s different than yours because they’ve researched areas of science that sadly most doctors and Rabbonim refuse to?
The term anti-vaxxer is derogatory, nasty, condescending, and simply inaccurate. No one is anti vaccines; they simply want vaccines to be safe. They are usually ex-vaxxers, people who did at one point vaccinate, but then stopped after they, their loved ones, or close friends or children were injured by vaccines.
No one acquiesced to be called by this negative label. And as such, it is an issur min haTorah to call someone by that name, as indicated by the Shulchan Aruch.
“But they’re causing health issues to other people in the community” is the response I usually hear.
OK, if you believe that they pose a health risk then kick them out. Kick them out of your shuls and schools (after of course hearing their side too including why they feel they know more than most doctors, which is a valid question). Nobody is saying to keep a health risk in your midst. But what right do you have to violate an issur chamur of ona’as devorim? Did HaRav Elyashiv zt”l supposedly permit this too?
The Meforshim on the Shulchan Aruch quote the Gemara in Bava Metzia (59a) that states that even though the gates of tefillah are closed, the gates of tears are not. This statement from chazal is powerful. It’s poignant. In fact, on Yom Kippur, during ne’eilah, the holiest time of the year, on the holiest day of the year, we allude to this Chazal. In the tefillah, we say,
תמכתי יתדותי בשלוש עשרה תבות,
ובשערי דמעות כי לא נשלבות
I support my pegs on the thirteen words (the thirteen attributes of Mercy from Hashem) and in the gates of tears, which are never closed.
We beseech Hashem and ask that He listen to us since we are crying, and He promised us that our cries won’t go unanswered.
But did you listen to the cries of others? Or did you laugh and scorn and stand indifferently as those stupid, weirdo, anti-vaxxers pleaded for your mercy? Did you listen to them when all they asked for was a conversation allowing them to explain the rationale behind their position? Did you seek to give an otherwise close friend or relative or ehrliche Yid the benefit of the doubt, and humbly see if perhaps they know something that maybe you don’t, or did you disgracefully call them names, and encourage others to do so as well?
There was a beautiful expose that was published this past Tisha B’av (see https://rebrand.ly/SinasChinam5779Publication) and I’d like to quote one thought that was mentioned there.
In Sefer Bereishis, we are told of the story of Yosef and his brothers. They tried killing him. They sold him. We are told by the meforshim that they believed that their responses were justified based on actions that Yosef had committed. However, later, when they were standing before the Egyptian viceroy whose identity was still unknown to them, they made a cheshbon hanefesh. The pasuk in Parshas Mikeitz (Bereishis 42:21) tells us:
וַיֹּאמְרוּ אִישׁ אֶל אָחִיו אֲבָל אֲשֵׁמִים אֲנַחְנוּ עַל אָחִינוּ אֲשֶׁר רָאִינוּ צָרַת נַפְשׁוֹ בְּהִתְחַנְנוֹ אֵלֵינוּ וְלֹא שָׁמָעְנוּ עַל כֵּן בָּאָה אֵלֵינוּ הַצָּרָה הַזֹּאת.
They said, each one to his brother, we are guilty regarding our brother because we saw the pain of his soul as he cried out to us and we didn’t listen; that’s why this tzarah has befallen us.
Clearly, they felt that they were right. But Yosef had called out to them in pain. And they didn’t listen. They ignored him. When someone calls out in pain, if you’re a Yid, you listen. It doesn’t matter what you think.
We are all awaiting the Yom Hadin of Yom Kippur. We want Hashem to listen to our cries. Are we listening to the cries of others?
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of GreaterLakewood