439. Verbal Oppression

62:18 If a person wants to sell a piece of property or a house and two potential buyers offer the same price, assuming that neither owns the adjacent property, here is the order of priority: a resident of his own city takes precedence over the resident of another city. If both of them live in his city, a neighbor takes precedence over a non-neighbor. If the non-neighbor is a close friend and the neighbor is not a friend at all, then the friend takes precedence. If one is a friend and the other is a relative, the friend still has priority as per Proverbs 27:63, “a close neighbor is better than a distant brother.” The relative takes precedence over others except for a Torah scholar. The scholar even takes precedence over a neighbor and a friend. However, the owner of the adjacent property takes precedence over everyone. Even after the property has been sold to another, the owner of the adjacent property can void the sale and evict the buyer. This is true even if the buyer is a Torah scholar/friend/neighbor of the seller and the owner of the adjacent property is an unlearned person whom the seller doesn’t even know. The order of priority in such sales was established rabbinically in order to fulfill Deuteronomy 6:18, that we should act properly in G-d’s sight.

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Just as we may not oppress others in financial matters, we may likewise not oppress people verbally. Leviticus 25:17 tells us, “A person must not cheat his fellow, and you shall fear Hashem.” This refers to wronging another person with words. In many ways, this is worse than wronging a person financially. When one has been wronged financially, the matter can be fixed by paying him back; verbal oppression is not so easily rectified. Wronging someone financially is “just business” but verbal oppression is quite personal. If a person cries out to G-d because of verbal oppression, he is answered quickly. One must be especially careful about not causing his wife distress through his speech, because she may cry and G-d reacts strongly to tears. The Talmud in Brachos 32b tells us, “The gate of tears is never locked.”