AY Lesson 25 - Hurtful Speech - Ona'as D'varim

The main obligation of ona'as devarim is to refrain from intentionally saying or doing things that will shame or cause pain to another Jew.




We are striving to love our fellow Jews by improving

the way we interact with others.



Last week’s Stretch of the Week: Brainstorm ways that you can help your community and/or the Jewish people by using your own set of unique talents and abilities.

Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.


Lesson #25

עונעת דברים

O'na’as D'vorim

(Hurtful Speech)


The Torah teaches us the following: “Do not aggrieve one another, and you shall fear G-d” (Vayikra 25).  From this our Sages learned that, just as it is forbidden to hurt people financially by defrauding them in business relationships, so too it is forbidden to hurt people with words.  Hurting others with words is a more severe transgression than cheating them financially.

Our primary responsibility is to refrain from intentionally saying or doing anything that will shame or cause pain to another Jew.  This includes any words or actions that embarrass, humiliate, frighten, anger, shock or cause suffering to another person. The prohibition applies equally to both children and adults.

We should take precautions to keep our distance from anything that might lead us to cause pain to another person, even inadvertently.  Some examples include disturbing someone’s sleep, smoking or spitting in the company of others, taking someone’s turn in line or opening a window on a cold day when most people would prefer it closed. 


(Excerpts from The Code of Jewish Conduct by Rabbi Yitzchok Silver)


Story: (based on a true story)

Excitement filled the air on our block due to the exciting news of our neighbor’s daughter’s engagement.  As the weeks flew by, the wedding was quickly approaching and the host’s close friends were busy planning a celebratory meal following the wedding.

“So, how can I participate?” asked Talia, a neighbor, knowing that I was one of the coordinators.

“Oh, don’t worry about it.  We’ve got everything under control” I answered her.

“It’s my pleasure though!  I can make a dessert, a salad, the challah rolls, whatever is needed!” she offered.

“No worries.  We’ve divided up the jobs already and everything’s taken care of.  We’d love for you and your husband to come though.  I think Rachel is making the calls tonight so she’ll be in touch with you.”

“Okay,” Talia answered.  “If you and the other coordinators change your mind, please let me know.”

I forgot about our conversation and continued on with my day.  Later that night, as I was relaxing over a cup of tea, my phone rang.  It was Talia.

“I have to be honest with you, I really feel. . .”  There was a brief silence at the other end of the line and then I heard Talia stifle her tears.

 Talia continued, “I feel that it’s time that I finally spoke up.  I have lived on this block for five years and although I find everyone to be special in so many ways, I feel that there is a certain level of elitism as well. If a neighbor calls and offers to contribute to hosting a special meal, how does anyone lose out by making that person feel wanted, needed, and a part of the occasion as well? I feel connected to the women on the block in some ways, but I have always felt that I have never made it to the “inner circle”.  When I heard about the plans to host a meal to celebrate our neighbor’s wedding, I felt that it would be such a wonderful opportunity to come together as a united group and contribute together.  Instead, I was met with a response that sounded like “Thanks, but no thanks”.  This left me feeling excluded once again.  I really wish there was more sensitivity and less focus on the food, décor, and ambiance.”

Left in a state of shock, I apologized and expressed that I meant no harm.  I didn’t know what else to say.  Because I was caught off guard, I quickly ended the conversation and called my older sister.  I explained to her what happened and she was able to get me to realize that perhaps my neighbor had a point. Even beyond that, if I were to really dig deeply, I would probably sense that I felt a certain level of satisfaction from saying no to people because it gave me a feeling of being in charge.  If I was really being honest with myself, I could see that I sometimes may come across as controlling and that this might be insulting to others. 

After getting clarity on my intentions and the way I had come across to Talia, I called her and sincerely apologized. I thanked her for being honest with me and pointing out a flaw that I (and our other neighbors) need to work on.  I truly look forward to similar growth opportunities now and the friendship that can be nurtured as part of the process.


Discussion Question Options:

  1. To what degree should a person watch their speech around people who are sensitive and have emotional needs that are different than their own?
  1. When we have the urge to insult, embarrass, or humiliate someone, is this always a sign that we ourselves are suffering in some way?  Is hurtful speech ever justified?
  1. How can one become more aware of the effect of their words on people they speak with?

Stretch of the Week:

Before lashing out at someone, quietly count to 10, and ask yourself “do I really know what this person is saying to me?”


Stretch Of The Week