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Thought for the Day: Not G'neivas Da'as

In the dark ages when I was young and foolish (I am now no longer so young) and watched network TV with enthusiasm, there was a commercial whose tag line was, "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature!"  (That statement was usually followed by lighting and thunder; search on YouTube, if you are so inclined.)  As it turns out, the Torah is not thrilled with you fooling any one.

First, of course, there is straight out lying.  The Torah not only forbids lying but actually exhorts us to keep distant: "Midvar sheker tirchak"/"Keep distant from a false matter." (Shemos 23:7).  More than that, however, the Torah also forbids us to use trickery to get what we want; which goes under the rubric of "g'neivas da'as" -- literally "stealing a mind/opinion".  Generally speaking, anything that creates a false impression with the intent to cheat is forbidden.  On the other hand, one is not obligated to open himself up to being cheated by being too forthcoming.  There are also cases where one is not obligated to correct a false impression that the receiver created on his own, even though the speaker knows that such a false impression exists.

As an example of the first, R' Chaim Yosef Sonnenfeld, the Rav of Yerushalayim, once wanted to purchase a masechta Eiruvin.  This was the late 1800s and there not every chasson got a beautiful, new Shas (complete set of talmud) for his wedding.  (In fact, the Chazon Ish himself never own a Shas.)  Being as masechta Eiruvin is not one of the more learned volumes of the talmud (in fact, it is one of the three hardest to master), R' Sonnenfeld was concerned that he would be charged a premium for this relatively rare volume.  Masechta Eiruvin is the second masechta of Shas, the first being Brachos, which is very popular.  R' Sonnenfeld therefore inquired for a masechta Brachos.  He was told that they were all out, but had several volumes of masechta Eiruvin (left over from sets from which people had bought more popular volumes) that they could not sell... would be he be interested in that, and they would make it worth his while by giving him  a good price.  A classic example of "ze ne'he'ne v'ze ne'he'ne"/both parties benefit; the rav got a fair price and the bookstore moved dead stock.

Regarding the second example, R' Yitzchak Elchanan was traveling to apply for the position of rav in Kovno, near Navardok.  On the way there, he spent the night at an inn and found himself without any s'farim.  He asked the innkeeper, who could only find a siddur, which had nothing to learn except a nice section on hilchos k'ri'as ha'torah.  The rav spend that night learning all the details of k'ri'as ha'torah.  He arrived the next morning in Novohrodok; it was a Monday morning and there was a tumult about some detail about the k'riyah that morning.  R' Yitzchak Elchanan was able to resolve the dispute immediately, having just reviewed all the relevant halachos.  Novohrodok was a center of Torah learning and the question was about a detail in laws that are only review infrequently.  R' Yitzchak Elchanan was thus immediately praised as an outstanding scholar and given the job.  It's not g'neivas da'as that heaven decided to feed him the answers to a test that heaven was preparing for him in the morning.

Until you are a great Torah sage yourself, however, if your situation doesn't fit neatly into one of the examples above, best to be machmir/stringent.  It's not nice to fool HaShem nor His treasured nation!

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