QUESTION: The Gemara says that when one hires a worker to guard his crops, he may not give him payment for watching the crops on Shabbos. RASHI (DH v'Lishmor) writes that the Gemara refers to a field of barley which is designated to be used for the Korban ha'Omer during Shemitah, for which a guard is needed to ensure that no one takes the barley.

TOSFOS questions Rashi's explanation. The Halachah is that a Korban may be offered only from an item which an ordinary Jew is permitted to eat. The Toras Kohanim explicitly states that a person may not guard his produce during Shemitah. Tosfos understands that according to the Toras Kohanim, if a person guards his produce during Shemitah, he is forbidden from eating that produce. (See the MAHARSHA who explains how this question is evident in the words of Tosfos.) How, then, can the barley that is guarded during Shemitah be brought for the Korban ha'Omer?


(a) TOSFOS answers that the guard does not really need to guard the produce from being harvested. He merely informs people who pass by that the barley in this field is designated for the Omer. Once the people hear that, they refrain from taking the barley on their own accord. What is the difference, though, between warning people that the barley is designated for the Omer, and actively guarding the barley from being taken? The SHITAH MEKUBETZES in Menachos (84a, #10) explains that when the guard merely warns people about the barley, he takes no action at all against people who disregard his warning and take the grain. This is why the grain is not considered guarded.

This answer seems difficult. If the guard does not actively guard the grain but merely provides information, a sign which details the area of the barley and the purpose for which it is designated should suffice! Why is a guard needed for such a purpose? Tosfos in Yevamos (122a, DH Shel) explains that the guard is necessary in order to protect the produce from animals.

(b) TOSFOS in Menachos (84a, DH Shomrei) writes that the verses which discuss the prohibition against harvesting produce and grapes use the words "Betzirecha" and "Ketzirecha" -- "your harvest." This wording indicates that the prohibition applies only for the general public, not for Hekdesh. (Y. MONTROSE)



OPINONS: The Mishnah lists a number of examples of Ona'as Devarim. In one case, a person asks, "How much is that item?" when he really has no intention to buy the item. What exactly is the element of Ona'as Devarim involved in such a case?

(a) The ME'IRI explains that when a person asks for the price when he has no intention to buy the item, often he will respond that he does not want to buy the item because the price is too high. Others might hear his remark and decide to shop elsewhere, and as a result the storeowner will suffer a loss.

(b) The Me'iri cites a second opinion which explains that when a person asks about the price of an item, the storeowner's hopes are raised that he will make a sale. When the person walks away, the storeowner feels disappointed. The storeowner would not mind questions about his item from a person who genuinely is interested in purchasing the item. However, one who asks such questions knowing that he will cause disappointment to the storeowner for no reason transgresses the prohibition against Ona'as Devarim. This is also the reason given by the CHAFETZ CHAIM in CHOVAS HA'SHEMIRAH (ch. 10).

(c) The RASHBAM in Pesachim (112b) explains that such a question causes other potential customers to avoid buying the item. The SEFER L'RE'ACHA KAMOCHA (vol. 3, p. 34) explains this as follows. When there is only one item of this type for sale, others who are interested in buying it will not try to purchase it for themselves when they see someone else asking questions about it. Similarly, when other potential buyers see one person ask the storeowner for details about the item, they are likely to leave and shop at another store. When the questioner is genuinely interested in the item, asking about it is permitted, even if his questions will cause others not to buy it, and even if he ends up not buying it himself. However, when he has no intention to buy the item, his questions merely harm the storeowner and constitute Ona'as Devarim.

(d) The RA'AVAD on the Sifra (Behar, ch. 4) writes that the storeowner will feel hurt when he finds out later that the person was merely taking up his time for no reason.

HALACHAH: Based on these sources, the SEFER L'RE'ACHA KAMOCHA gives specific guidelines for "window shoppers." Many of his rulings are recorded in the name of RAV CHAIM KANIEVSKY shlit'a. A person who is not interested in buying an item at all may not ask a storeowner for the price of an item. This includes asking over the telephone. If, however, he says before he asks that "I just want to know how much this costs," he is permitted to ask, since he is letting the storeowner know that he is not really interested in buying the product. This avoids causing the storeowner unnecessary disappointment when the "shopper" does not make a purchase. In any event, a person is not allowed to make remarks like, "That price is too high," within earshot of others, since he thereby causes the storeowner to lose customers. Also, he should not pester the storeowner with questions about a product when others are in the store who might require attention.

A hired employee in a store differs from the storeowner in that his disappointment in the lack of a sale is less than that of the owner. Accordingly, one is permitted to ask such a worker the price of an item even without first saying, "I just want to know how much this costs," as long as he does not ask too many questions or complain loudly about the price. (Y. MONTROSE)