By Rabbi Daniel Travis
He [Yosef] remembered what he had dreamt about them. “You are spies,”
he said to them. (Bereshith 42:9)
It is forbidden to deceive someone for the sake of a joke.1 Yosef was only permitted to trick his brothers to
enable him to fulfill the prophecy he had received decades earlier, in his
dreams. Under any other circumstances his actions would have constituted a
grave sin, as they caused his father tremendous pain.2
If someone asks you where he can buy food for his animal, you may not, as
a joke, direct him to a person whom you know has never sold animal
food.3 The Chatham Sofer relates that
once the wife of a certain shochet bore a child, and the shochet invited a
respected mohel named Reb Michael to perform the brith on the child. When
the appointed day arrived, Reb Michael traveled a great distance to
perform the milah, and when he arrived, discovered to his dismay that he
had been tricked – the child was a girl, not a boy. Reb Michael became the
laughing-stock of the town.4
The Chatham Sofer was asked if the shochet could be forcibly removed from
his position because of this practical joke. The Chatham Sofer replied
that this “joke” constituted both a monetary transgression, for the
shochet had wasted the mohel’s time, and an emotional infringement, for he
had caused him anguish and embarrassment. Therefore, if the beith din
found the shochet guilty of deceiving the mohel, the shochet could indeed
be removed from his post.
Just as it is forbidden to trick someone just to annoy him, it is also
forbidden to steal something from someone to annoy him, even with the
intention of returning the item after a short time.5 In fact, when the Torah says, “Do not steal,”6 it refers to just such a case. (The
prohibition of outright theft is derived from the prohibition not to
overcharge.)7 Even if the theft is
intended to teach someone a lesson, the victim will suffer as long as the
object is missing. It is therefore forbidden to take the item, allowing
the victim to assume it has been stolen.8 On a similar note, it is forbidden to test someone’s
honesty by setting a trap to see if he will steal from you or not.9
1 Chofetz Chaim, Sefath Tamim cited in MiDevar Sheker Tirchak
(by Rav Hillel Litwak), p. 46. Messilath Yesharim, Ch. 11.
2 Ramban on Bereshith 42:9.
3 Bava Metzia 58b.
4 Responsa, Choshen Mishpat 166.
5 Rambam Sefer HaMitzvoth, Negative Commandment # 244; Beis
Yosef and Prisha, according to the Tur on Choshen Mishpat 248:1 and SMA
(Sefer Meirath Einayim) vol. 2 in the Shulchan Aruch 248:1.
6 Shemoth 20:13.
7 Bava Metzia 61b.
8 She’iltos of Rav Achai Gaon, 4.
9 Responsa Torah Leshmah 407 says that aside from being a
violation of Lifnei Iver, (not to put an obstacle in front of a blind
person) it is possible that he is normally honest but in this instance he
was not able to stand up to the test.
Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org