סדר בהר

וכי תמכרו ממכר לעמיתך או קנה מיד עמיתך אל תונו איש את אחיו

And if you sell something to your neighbor, or buy something from your neighbor’s hand, you shall not defraud one another

Leviticus 25:14

Rashi explains that this commandment refers to monetary oppression. Concerning the verse below (Leviticus 25:17): “ולא תונו איש את עמיתו” (you shall not wrong one another), Rashi comments that the Scripture warns against verbal oppression, inasmuch as the Scripture writes: “ויראת מאלקיך” (and you shall fear your God) because He knows what is within the heart.

The question that arises about this verse is that the Midrash says (Leviticus Rabbah 33:1) that it bears on the text (Proverbs 18:21) “מות וחיים ביד לשון וכו’” )death and life are in the power of the tongue). So, the Midrash, unlike Rashi, understands the first verse to refer to verbal oppression. However, the Scripture explicitly refers in this verse to an act of purchase or of sale, so how could the Midrash interpret it as a reference to a verbal transgression?

But according to our master, the Midrash is explaining why the Scripture wrote “וכי תמכרו ממכר” (and if you sell something that is sold) when it could have written instead “וכי תמכרו דבר או חפץ”  (and if you sell a thing or an object), the word “ממכר” being applicable only after an object has been sold, but not before. (See the interpretative rules of the Malbim.) One could also ask why the Scripture did not write the conjugated form “וכי תמכרו ממכר לעמיתך או תקנו מיד עמיתך” (i.e. “תקנו” instead of the root forrm “קנה”).

The Midrash therefore explains that with this golden expression the Torah is informing us of a great precept, which is that if the buyer knows that the seller is selling because he is in financial distress and must sell his belongings, the buyer should not take  advantage of the seller’s distress and pay him less than the usual value of the object. Similarly, if the seller knows that the buyer very urgently wants his merchandise, he should not raise the price unduly.

Now if the seller is forced by circumstances to sell his belongings, then the belongings may be considered as if they had already been sold to anyone willing to pay even a nominal price for them. (See the explanation of our master about a similar choice of words in seder Mishpatim concerning the verse “כי תקנה עבד עברי”.) The Scripture therefore says “if you sell something that is sold” referring to the object sold as “ממכר”, i.e., something that, owing to the distress of the seller, can be considered already to have been sold. Similarly, the Scripture writes “או קנה מיד עמיתך” (or buy from the hand of your neighbor) using the root form to show the urgency of the purchase, because the buyer is compelled to buy even before he reaches a fair bargain with the seller, being willing to pay whatever price is demanded by the seller. It is concerning such a situation that the Scripture warns “אל תונו איש את אחיו” — do not oppress your brother.

Now the Talmud discusses (Bava Kamma 7a) one who has houses, fields and vineyards, but cannot sell them. The Talmud asks how it is possible that he is not able to sell them, and the answer given is that because it is known that the owner is desperate for cash, the price of his property is depressed. This indicates that by divulging his financial distress to others, he causes the value of his property to fall. It is to such a situation that the Midrash is referring when it says that life and death are under the control of the tongue, for if a person is careful to guard his tongue and not to divulge his financial distress to anyone, what he wants to sell will not be considered to have already been sold before he sold it. (שביב אש)

והארץ לא תמכר לצמיתות כי לי הארץ כי גרים ותושבים אתם עמדי ובכל ארץ אחוזתכם גאולה תתנו לארץ

The land shall not be sold forever; for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me

Leviticus 25:23

One might ask why this verse appears here. Does this entire chapter not speak about the sabbatical year for the land? Our master explains that this verse also suggests the law of the sabbatical year, by telling us that the land may not be sold in perpetuity so that it would be tilled constantly. Rather, all the land belongs to the Eternal, so that you are just sojourners dwelling upon it. You are merely sojourners on the land for as long as I desire it. You may only work the land six years. On the seventh year, however, the land will enjoy its Sabbath. (שביב אש)

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