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By: Meoros HaDaf HaYomi
Dear Customer, Please Note: This Book is not Proofread at all
Rav Yehudah asserts in the name of Rav that most people are guilty of some sort of thievery and, as Rashbam explains (s.v. Rov begezel), this means that most people transacting business allow themselves to deny others their due profit. In other words, fraud, false pretenses and financial conniving are considered gezel.
In his Sefas Tamim (Ch. 3), Rabeinu Yisrael Meir HaKohen zt”l, the Chafetz Chaim, proves that even one who causes his fellow a loss is considered a thief. True to his word, he was renowned for his extreme avoidance of anything resembling falsification or thievery, as evident from his behavior concerning the books he authored.
The Chafetz Chaim was in Warsaw when he first had his Mishnah Berurah printed and every day he would come to the printer to check that no smudged or otherwise defective pages were being sent out for sale. He left his learning for several months for this purpose and afterwards relied on his son to undertake the task. When he discovered that despite his great care, one of his books had been sold with a few defective pages, he hurried a sharp letter to his son, saying “What have you done to me, my son? All my life I’ve taken care to avoid anything resembling thievery but I never thought that I would err in outright robbery and because of you this has happened!” The Chafetz Chaim immediately ordered the printer to reprint those pages found defective and publicize in the press that anyone who had bought a defective edition should inform him of such in order to receive the corrected pages by post (Michtevei HeChafetz Chaim, p. 30).
The Chafetz Chaim knew no rest till he hired special proofreaders to examine each page of his printed books and, if approved, to mark the front page of each book as “proofread” (HeChafetz Chaim Ufo‟olav, I, Ch. 32). Some of these books are still extant.
The problem of printing errors also concerned other halachic authorities. For example, the students of the Tsadik HaGaon Rav Eliahu Lopian zt”l, led by the famed Yerushalmi Magid Rabbi Shalom Schwadron zt”l, published the popular Lev Eliahu with a warning on the front page: “Dear purchaser: This book is not proofread and I assume no responsibility – The Publisher.” We have no knowledge of the severity of the printing error discovered by the Chafetz Chaim but HaGaon Rav Yaakov Kanievski zt”l, the Steipler, states in a letter that the sale of a book containing minor errors that still allow readers to understand the text is not considered gezel. After all, anyone buying a book knows that the task of printing is complicated and hardly ever free of mistakes. In his opinion, a book with no pages missing may be sold even with some defects and therefore, when he found that the last letters on a page were omitted in an entire edition of his Kehilos Yaakov, he continued to sell that edition as the defect did not prevent understanding the text (Karyana D’igarta, I, p. 351). Of course, this principle applies only to publishers of new books but one is not permitted to sell defective sidurim, as finely proofread sidurim are available on the market and they are expected to be free of errors.
All the above is just a fraction of the material pertaining to this broad topic. The Gemora in Brachos (6a) explains that one who fails to respond to a greeting is called a robber, indicating that depriving a person even of his due word is defined as gezel (Sefer “Mamon Kasher”).
Once, Rabbi Elazar Shulevitz zt”l, Rosh Yeshivah of Lomzha, was standing praying Shemoneh Esreh at the entrance to a synagogue and Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, standing near him, approached him and whispered, “Robber! The synagogue is packed full and you’re robbing the congregation of air!” Rabbi Shulevitz immediately interrupted his prayer to move away (Lev Eliahu, Bereishis). Similarly, though in an opposite circumstance, the Vilna Gaon zt”l would take care to shut the door to the bathhouse immediately after entering lest he rob the bathers of the warm air inside (Tosefes Maaseh Rav, S.K. 29). According to the Chafetz Chaim, even someone who participates in a wedding or sheva berachos meal without enhancing the joy of the chassan, about whom the Gemora in Berachos (ibid) states that he transgresses “five voices”, might be guilty of robbery (Michtevei HeChafetz Chaim, p. 46).
Why the Labor Cost More
A simple tailor became close to Rebbe Noach of Lechovitz and the Rebbe persuaded him to refrain from the custom then common among tailors to demand clients to bring them extra cloth in order to benefit from the quantity remaining after their work. “This custom is outright thievery,” explained the Rebbe, “You may charge more for your labor but you mustn’t practice that foul custom.”
“And what should I tell my customers,” questioned the tailor, “if they ask me why I charge more yet need less cloth?”
“Tell them,” replied the Rebbe, “that you learnt to cut in a new way that doesn’t need a lot of cloth but that learning the method cost a great deal.”
The tailor obeyed the Rebbe’s instructions but after a while his customers remarked that he had already covered the expenses of learning the new method and asked why he continued to charge more.
“The new method,” he answered, “is a whole system to be learnt again every day and every week” (Hizaharu Bemamon Chavreichem, p. 366).
The Old Man Fell Asleep on His Coat
On the night following the demise of HaGaon Rav Elchanan Wasserman’s wife, his son Rabbi Naftali sat down and wept incessantly while several yeshivah students slept in an adjacent room. Rav Wasserman approached his son and told him, “You shouldn’t cry so loudly now. The boys might wake up and you would rob them of their sleep” (Or Elchanan, I, p. 13).
A similar story is told of Rabbi Avraham of Purisov. Despite his known tendency to conceal his behavior, he once learnt all night in the beis midrash, later explaining that an old man had fallen asleep on the edge of his coat. “I couldn’t, after all, stand up for fear of waking him!” (Chasidim Mesaperim, I).