In our community there is a person who arranges rentals for Shabbos for a fee. People going away for Shabbos inform him of the availability of their apartments and people who are interested in renting turn to him for apartments. This week I am planning to go away for Shabbos so I informed the agent and he sent me a potential tenant. However, my apartment was not suitable for this renter. May I inform my sister, who is also planning to go away for Shabbos, about this renter since her apartment is suitable for this renter, or do I have to tell my sister to approach the agent and let him make the deal and receive his fee? My friend told me that if I don’t tell the agent I may be violating the issur of oni hamehapeich becharoro. Is he correct?
It is not exactly correct that you will violate the issur of oni hamehapeich becharoro, but there are three reasons why you have to pay the agent his fee. Furthermore, we will see that your friend wasn’t far from the truth in mentioning the prohibition of oni hamehapeich becharoro.
The first reason you may not tell your sister is that by telling her you will violate the prohibition against telling loshon hora. The Rambam writes (Deos 7, 5), “One who tells another something which, if heard by others, will cause physical or monetary harm to a third individual, violates the prohibition of loshon hora.” The Chafetz Chaim in a number of places explains that even though one is not saying anything bad per se about another it is still loshon hora.
There is a common misconception that loshon hora is only when one says something which is bad about the person. However, the Chafetz Chaim in many places cites the Rambam that anything which is harmful constitutes loshon hora. He gives (Loshon hora Klal 2, Be’er Mayim Chaim 3) as an example one who reveals to another about someone’s plans to travel to a certain place to buy goods from a specific seller. Since revealing his travel plans may undermine his plans, as others may go to that seller and buy him out or bid up the price harming the one who was planning to buy there, telling over this information constitutes loshon hora.
In a second place (Rechilus 9, Introduction of Be’er Mayim Chaim) the Chafetz Chaim elaborates at length about this Rambam. He explicitly writes that even if the victim did not suffer an actual monetary loss, but was just thwarted in his plans to earn a profit, it constitutes loshon hora.
He also writes that the fact that this speech only causes damage does not diminish the prohibition because the Gemoro (Bava Basra 26A) writes that it is forbidden to cause damage. The fact that one does not have to pay for causative damages only applies to his monetary liability. Nonetheless, the act is strictly forbidden. He writes specifically that speech that results in thwarting someone’s efforts to find employment or to enter into a partnership is loshon hora.
In another place (Rechilus 8, 5) the Chafetz Chaim quotes the Sha’arei Teshuvoh (3, 225) of Rabbenu Yonah who cites a number of reasons why one must not reveal someone’s secrets. Sha’arei Teshuvoh writes that while it does not constitute rechilus, it is forbidden because it causes damage since it may thwart the person’s plans.
Additionally, it is a violation of tzniyus. Tzniyus is not only how one dresses! One sees in the Gemoro that keeping secrets constitutes tzniyus. The Gemoro (Megillo 13B) proves that Rochel, Shaul and Esther all had the virtue of tzniyus from the fact that they were able to keep a secret. The Chafetz Chaim (Be’er Mayim Chaim 7) writes that R. Yonah maintains that it is worse than avak loshon hora and rechilus.
It is unclear how to explain the apparent discrepancy that sometimes the Chafetz Chaim considers it to be loshon hora and sometimes avak loshon hora. It would seem that these are two different opinions: the Rambam who considers it loshon hora and Rabbenu Yonah who mentions other reasons to forbid. The difficulty is just how to reconcile the various statements of the Chafetz Chaim. We should further mention that even if it is avak some maintain that avak is also forbidden from the Torah. However, in either case it is forbidden.
In conclusion: Since revealing to your sister the identity of the person who wanted to rent an apartment for Shabbos will prevent the agent from earning money that he would have earned otherwise, you would be violating the issur of loshon hora (if you do not pay the agent his fee). According to the Rambam it is full-fledged loshon hora, and according to Rabbenu Yonah it is avak loshon hora.
The second issue is another prohibition involved in revealing secrets. The Gemoro (Yuma 4B) derives from a pasuk that one may only tell to another something that was told to him, if he was told explicitly that he may repeat it to others. Lacking such permission, a person may not tell it to others. From Res. Chasam Sofer Orach Chaim 124 it is clear that he understands that the amora in the Gemoro who said it, understood it to be a real drosho and not an asmachta. The Semag (Lo Sa’asei 9) brings this as an example of avak loshon hora. The She’iltos (Vayeishev 28) brings it as an example of rechilus.
Whereas, until now the issue was only information which, when told to others, would damage someone, this prohibition applies to anything that was told to another. The Chafetz Chaim (LH 2, BMC 27) limits the prohibition to where there is some indication that the one who told the information desires that the information should not be spread around. He gives as an example a case where someone called someone else to his house to tell him something. The fact that he was called to his house indicates that he wanted this information to be kept private.
In your situation it is obvious that the agent does not want the information that he gave you – the identity of someone who is looking to rent an apartment in your community for Shabbos – to be told to others. Therefore, if you were to reveal this to your sister you would be violating this prohibition as well, which may also be avak loshon hora, or it may be an additional prohibition.
The third issue is a prohibition known as oni hamenakeif. There is a Rabbinic prohibition to use someone’s efforts to earn a profit at the expense of the one whose efforts you are using. The example discussed in the Mishna (Gittin 59B) is where a person banged on an ownerless olive tree causing the olives to fall to the ground, and someone else picked up the olives from the ground before the person who knocked them to the ground could gather them. Strictly speaking, the second person is the legal owner since the first person does not acquire the olives by knocking them down off the tree. It is only when one picks them up that he makes a kinyan of hagbo’ho (lifting) and acquires the olives. Therefore, the second person is the legal owner of the olives. However, the Rabbonon forbade the second person’s actions and enacted that this is a Rabbinic form of stealing.
Another situation that is discussed in the Gemoro (Bava Basra 21A) is where a person set out bait to cause fish to congregate and before he could catch the fish someone else caught them. The second person is considered to be a Rabbinic thief since he used the first person’s efforts in order to catch the fish, preventing the first person from catching the fish that he worked on with the goal of catching the fish himself.
Similarly, the agent worked on gathering information in order to match people looking for apartments with those going away for Shabbos. If your sister would use this information that came from the agent and rent to a person who had turned to the agent for an apartment, thereby preventing the agent from making a match that he had worked on, she would be a Rabbinic thief.
One can obtain much more information about this prohibition in our sefer, Mishpatei Yosher (Oni Hamehapeich, Chapter 5).
What your friend told you that it is oni hamehapeich is not strictly true, since that prohibition only applies when one buys or rents property or an object that another person was about to close on with the object or property’s owner. Here your sister did not have any deal with the agent. Therefore, oni hamehapeich in the strict sense does not apply, but this is somewhat similar and it does apply.
In conclusion: It is forbidden for you to pass on to your sister the information you received from the agent in order to not pay him his fee. If you do so, you perhaps violate the Torah’s prohibition of loshon hora or at least avak loshon hora. Furthermore, if your sister uses this information in order to circumvent the agent she would be a Rabbinic thief of the money that the agent would have earned.
If you tell your sister and she uses the information but pays the agent his fee anyway, there is no problem.