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Thought for the Day: Giving the Benefit of the Doubt and Hurtful Speech

This happened in Eretz Yisrael.  I young father decided to give his wife the day off, so to speak, and take the kids on a day trip.  He bravely took his five children to the bus stop to embark on the three hour bus ride to their destination.  The ride there and day with the kids went splendidly.  On the way home, however, the kids were all cranky and the father was looking forward to the getting everyone home and to bed.  However, the bus was very crowded and there were no seats available.  After about a half hour, he had a brilliant idea.  He took out his cell phone and made like he was calling his wife.  "Shalom Chana... Sprintze and Yoeli don't look so good.  It looks like they did catch the swine flu, after all."  At the next stop about half of the bus cleared out.  They all got to sit comfortably together and had a great time.  Problem solved.

After a few days, though, the young man started having nagging thoughts that he may have done something wrong.  After all, the people who got off the bus were at least delayed; moreover, they may have had to pay extra to continue their trip.  On the other hand, he hadn't told anyone to get off the bus... they had listened in to a private phone conversation.  Who told them to listen in?

The sh'eila went to R' Eliyashiv.  The p'sak was that he was not obligated to repay them.  (How could he have repaid, you ask?  Take out an ad... I don't know; kasha af ah ma'aseh).  They should have been "dahn l'kaf z'chus"/given him the benefit of the doubt that he wouldn't put everyone at risk.  Therefore they should have asked him if it was true that the children had swine flu.  Alternatively, they could have asked the bus driver to inquire and put him off the bus if it was true.  The point is, they made their own decision to get off the bus and they are responsible for the consequences.  So he is off the hook.  Off the hook for damages, that is.

He is on the hook big time for something much worse: ona'as d'varim/hurtful speech.  Chazal note that ona'as d'varim is worse than ona'as mamon (cheating someone out of money); basically because you can repay stolen money, but you can't unhurt feelings (Bava Metzia 58).  He certainly intended to cause them stress; so it is ona'as d'varim b'meizid.  He is obligated to ask m'chila.  Since that is bein adam l'chaveiro he will not be able to get kapara on Yom Kippur until he gets that m'chila.

That day of discomfort on the bus seems pretty miniscule compared to an eternity of suffering in olam ha'bah for failure to find everyone and secure their forgiveness.

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