“And you shall not cause pain, each man to his friend!” (Vayikra 25:17)
It is a negative commandment that one may not cause pain to another Jew with words. This means to say that one may not say to another Jew words which will make him feel bad or sad. Examples of this are, if he is a man who did bad deeds and has since repented one may not say to him, “Remember your earlier deeds!”, and if he is ill or suffering one may not say to him (in the vein of the friends of Iyov), “The reason you are suffering is because of your sins!”, and one may not ask a vendor the price of a certain object when one has no intention of buying it.
The root of this commandment is well-known, for it is in order to increase peace between the creations, and peace is great for in it is the blessing found in the world, whereas quarreling is bad and causes many ills, curses and bad happenings.
The Torah was very insistent about the problem of causing someone pain through words, as it is something which hurts people immensely, and many people feel it more than the loss of money. Chazal even said, “Hurting people through words is worse than hurting them through money!”. It is impossible to list all of the things which can cause pain to the creations, but each person must use his own sense to understand what causes pain to each one, and Hashem knows all of his steps and allusions, for a man only sees what his eyes see, but Hashem sees into the heart.
This commandment applies in all places and at all times, both to men and to women, and even when speaking to children one must be careful not to upset them more than necessary. This applies also when talking to one’s own children, and one who is lenient over then and does not hurt them in these ways will find life, blessing and honor. One who transgresses this commandment and hurts his friend with words in the way that Chazal explained above in the aforementioned examples, has violated this commandment, and even though he does not actually receive lashes for this commandment, as it is transgressed without an action, Hashem who gave us this commandment has many ways of lashing without a calfskin whip.
It would appear correct to say, however, that this prohibition does not mean that if one Jew antagonized another man with words that the second person is not allowed to answer him back, as a person cannot be like a stone, and furthermore, if he does not answer sometimes it will appear as if he is agreeing and admitting to all of the mockery and accusations. In truth, the Torah does not command us to be like a dumb stone, which keeps quiet when cursed just as when blessed. The Torah commanded us to keep far away from this character trait of hurting others so that we will not start to annoy and cause pain to others. By doing this, he will be saved from the attackers, for they, unless they are completely mad (and one must not take any notice of mad people), only attack people who are argumentative and will respond. If at some time he feels that he must answer someone who has annoyed him, it is correct that he should do it in a pleasant way, and not become very angry, as is the way of the good people. This idea, that one may answer a fool with a similar answer, can be extrapolated from that which the Torah says, “If someone comes to kill you, get up early and kill him!”, as from there we see that a person does not have to suffer pain at the hand of his friend, and that he is allowed to save himself from their hands. In the same way a person may save himself from the mouth of his friend (which is full of deceit) in any way possible.
On the other hand, there are people who are so pious that they will not avail themselves of this leniency to answer back to their abusers, in case they become too angry, and about such people Chazal said that “Those who are made sad but do not make others sad, who hear their own shame and do not respond, about such people the verse says “And his loved ones are like the appearance of the sun in all its splendor”