June 11, 2024
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June 11, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

There is nothing like buying flowers for Shabbos. And there is nothing like buying those flowers from one of our own brethren. In this particular case, we can buy it from a struggling single mom, an agunah across from BBY, every Erev Shabbos starting from noon, or we can order subscriptions from a nice frum family, related to one of the leading gedolei ha’dor. [Email [email protected] for that family’s contact information.]

And it is a Torah mitzvah, too!

 

The Source

Rashi (Vayikra 25:14) sheds light on this fascinating concept. Rashi cites a Sifra (Parshas Behar, 3), one of the oldest commentaries on Sefer Vayikra: From where do we know that when one makes a purchase, he should purchase only from his fellow? The verse, therefore, tells us “or when you purchase, from the hand of your fellow.”

 

The Reasons

While this Rashi tells us the existence of this mitzvah, it does not provide the “why” behind it. What might be the reasons for this mitzvah? A cursory examination will reveal three fundamental issues:

  • It is an expression of the mitzvah of v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha, loving thy neighbor as thyself;
  • It supports our own economy; and
  • It creates a stronger bond among Klal Yisrael.

 

Not to Be Xenophobic to Others

This is not to say that we should entertain an antipathy or a xenophobic attitude toward foreigners. Our sages (Pesikta Sh’mos 20:23) tell us that all people were created in the image of Hashem and thus must be treated with respect and dignity. Indeed, we find in the Midrash Rabbah (Bamidbar 8:4) that Hashem tells Yehoshua concerning the Givonim that “if you distance those that are far, you will end up distancing those that are close.” Clearly, we must be concerned about everyone. Notwithstanding these concepts, however, there is clearly an obligation to look out for one’s own first.

Go to Amazon and you will see that you can check off buying only from women-owned businesses or minority-owned businesses. Keeping Shabbos is a declaration to the world that we believe that Hashem created the world and that those who do good are rewarded and those who opt for evil are punished. And, believe it or not, there are halachos concerning our obligation to do our business with shomrei Shabbos.

This mitzvah is cited by numerous halachic authorities:

  • Sefer HaChinuch (end of mitzvah #337),
  • Chofetz Chaim in Ahavas Chesed (5:7),
  • Rema in his Responsa (#10), and
  • Chasam Sofer (C.M. V #79),
  • and many other authorities (Tashbatz Vol. III #151; Maharam Shick C.M. #31; Minchas Yitzchok III #129).

We will attempt here to discuss some of the issues that pertain to this important concept.

Logistical difficulties. What happens if, from a logistical perspective, we encounter difficulties? The mitzvah applies even if it is more difficult to make the purchase at an establishment owned by one’s fellow than at one owned by other vendors (Maharam Shick, C.M. #31). Thus, distance, a lack of adequate parking, and just general inconvenience are not factors that exempt one from the mitzvah.

Price. Most authorities (Rama, Tashbatz, Chofetz Chaim) rule that the obligation to purchase from a fellow citizen exists even if his price for the item is higher than that of the other vendor. There is a distinction, however, when there is a significant difference in the price.

When the price of the other vendors is significantly less, some authorities rule that there is no obligation to purchase from a fellow citizen. Other authorities rule that even in such a case one must still purchase from his fellow citizen (Minchas Yitzchok’s reading of the Rema). Certainly, if the fellow citizen is having difficulty making ends meet, all would agree that one must purchase from him even if there is a significant difference in price (Ahavas Chesed 6:10).

The question arises as to what exactly constitutes a “significant difference” in price. Dayan Weiss (129:5) explores the possibility that “significant” may be equivalent to the concept of “hefsed merubah, a large loss” found in the poskim regarding issur v’heter (certain kashrus issues). If so, there would be a distinction between someone who is wealthy and someone who is poor.

Another possible definition of “significant difference” is if the price is one-sixth more than the other vendor’s price (Responsa Nachalas Shiva #55, cited by Dayan Weiss 129:5). Finally, a third possibility is that the term varies from person to person.

Exclusion of price gouging. It should be noted that price gouging by the citizen-owned store is also forbidden, and if the citizen store owner engages in this type of activity, shoppers may purchase at other vendors (Dayan Weiss 129:7). If the citizen store owner is not engaging in price gouging, but merely cannot receive the price discounting from wholesalers that other vendors (such as foreign chain stores) can receive, then this does not constitute price gouging.

Occasional purchases. Some authorities (Responsa of Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch, in T’shuvos VeHanhagos #805) have written that occasionally one may make purchases at other vendors, as long as one does not do so on a regular basis. This is further qualified to only include minor purchases. Major purchases must still be made at an establishment owned by one’s fellow citizen.

End consumers. Some authorities (Responsa Maharam Shick C.M. #31) have written that this obligation only applies to the end consumer. However, a person who has a business, where his livelihood is to resell items at a profit, may purchase from other vendors if their price is cheaper. It is meritorious, however, to purchase from his fellow citizens even in such a case.

Buying from shomrei Shabbos brethren demonstrates a concern for their welfare. The act of directing our purchases can also make a paradigm shift in our own psyche. It can affect who we are, making us into better people. When witnessing the impact that our own consumer choices can make, it is clear that we have to reanalyze our purchasing habits and bring them closer to home.

Difference in quality of item. Others have written that if there is a difference in quality between items purchased from different vendors, then the concept does not apply, and one may purchase from other vendors (Nesiv Yosher 1:4, by Rabbi Yehudah Itach).

Reb Tsemach Glenn relates that when one of Rav Belsky’s sons got married, every single possible vendor and worker, m’choitev eitzecha ad sho’ev meimecha, was shomer Shabbos. This is something that not everyone can do.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, we can say this is an area that has unfortunately been rather neglected. Often we may erroneously place our values of thriftiness and economic prudence above some of our other values. But this should not be. We must look toward our fellow citizens as if they are our brothers. If your own blood brother was an electrician, and you were in need of such a contractor, wouldn’t your father want you to conduct business with him instead of with a stranger? In the merit of our observing this mitzvah may Klal Yisrael be safe, strong and dwell in peace.


The author can be reached at [email protected]

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