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The Mishna tells us that just as there is a prohibition of ona’ah to cheat someone through money, there is also a prohibition to cause them pain verbally.
The Mordechai (306) says that based on the Gemora that considers ona’as devarim to be “not returnable,” it would follow that one receives malkus (lashes) for violating ona’as devarim.
The obvious difficulty with this is that ona’as devarim is a la’av she’ein bo ma’aseh (a prohibition without an action) which one does not receive malkus for violating.
The Sefer Hachinuch explicitly argues with this Mordechai and says that since it is a la’av she’ein bo ma’aseh, there isn’t any punishment of malkus.
The Nimukei Yosef explains based on the Gemora (59a) that only עם שאתך בתורה ובמצוות are included in ona’as devarim, that the prohibition of ona’as devarim doesn’t apply when one speaks harshly about one who does not fear Heaven (ya’arei shamayim).
Although the Gemora excludes an evil person from this prohibition (meaning that it is permitted to offend him), it seems a little strange why the Nimukei Yosef raises the bar so high, and insists that there isn’t a violation to speak against someone who is not a ya’arei shamayim.
We find that the Gemora expounds in Bava Metzia 48b and 62a – ונשיא בעמך לא תאור, בעושה מעשה עמך, to the exclusion of an evil person.
We also find in the Hagahos Maimon (deios 6:1) on the mitzvah of לא תשנא את אחיך בלבבך וכו’ ואהבת לרעך כמוך that we expound – דוקא שהוא רעך בתורה ובמצות אבל אדם רשע שאינו מקבל תוכחה מצוה לשנאותו. It is permitted to hate a wicked person. The source that one can hate such a person is in Pesachim 113b – that one can hate someone who commits transgressions.
We also find in the Rambam (Rotzeiach end of perek 4) who expounds – לא תעמוד על דם רעך, ואין זה ריעך and learns from here that shepherds who are considered thieves are not included in this mitzvah to save them.
All these sources that use the terms “amcha,” “rei’acha” or “achicha” seem to exclude only real wicked people. But the Nimukei Yosef seems to understand that the term “amisecha” in the context of ona’ah excludes anyone who is not a ya’arei shamayim. The term implies a higher standard than the other terms.