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Torah and Business: Friday Night's Sermon

When people think of Judaism, they think of it in the context of a religion. That congers up impressions of what G-d wants us to do to serve him. We think of things like praying and observing our holidays. We think of giving to charity, which foods are forbidden, and of course observing Shabbat.

Aside from the rites and rituals, Judaism also places a lot of importance on behavior. Hashem also expects us to engage in righteous behavior in our interactions with others in the secular world. Let’s look at how we are to behave in business.

There are numerous commandments that tell us how to behave during commerce. As an example, consider the saying, “Let the buyer beware”. Nothing could be farther from the tenets of Judaism. Hashem requires us to do exactly the opposite. We are commanded “[do] not put a stumbling block in front of the blind”. The literal meaning of this is obvious, but it also refers to not hiding information and making sure that everybody has all the information they need to make a proper decision during a business deal. This way, a fair decision can be made.

Similar to this is the admonition to make sure weights and measures are accurate. People should get the amount for what they pay. In adjudicating cases, a judge should judge a torts case fairly without any bias or preference. An example is given that in a case involving a poor man and a rich man, the judge should not favor the poor man thinking that the rich man won’t miss the money, but the poor man may be severely impacted by an adverse ruling.

Probably one of the major issues dealt with in Torah is real estate. Upon entering the promised land, land was divided up among the tribes, clans and Israelites. Everybody had a share in owning and working some land. Different people had different experiences, however. Some thrived while others struggled. Some got into such dire straits that they had to sell their land work for someone else.

There was a stipulation in Torah. During the Jubilee year (50th year), all land returns their ancestral owners. So it’s like the family getting a 2nd chance to make good. The main reason for such a law is so that a few doesn’t end up all the means of production in the land and thus have a disproportionate amount of power and influence through their riches. Compare that to today….

The moral of the story? Hashem wants to make everything fair. These laws would, theoretically anyway, make scoundrels think twice before trying to take advantage of people.

As a segue, let’s also consider what would make someone want to violate the idea of fair trade and honesty. Consider the character of someone who cheats. It’s weak, plain and simple.

Someone who has to cheat doesn’t have a lot of confidence that either they’re going to get a fair deal or just wants their way so badly that they will bend the rules of engagement to make sure they win. They’re will to play the game but wants to hold all the cards. Perhaps these people know that they’re cheating but they think that they have either some sort of entitlement that overrules anybody else’s share or they think they’re right and must win at all costs. The end justifies the means.

Someone who is strong plays by the rules because they have confidence in their ability to deliver their side of the deal and is willing to do what it takes to make good. These people trust in their own capability and are willing to accept the outcome. They also have the integrity to realize that business dealings should be fair and many don’t even think to cheat.

Engaging in fair business practices instills trust. People are more willing to extend themselves. When there is a history or the pall of mistrust, people hesitate to effect deals. Less business gets done, everybody loses.

We all know that sometimes, subterfuge works. Some people are very good at deceiving and then covering up their tracks. But as is said in the Sabbath Psalm, “[T]heir doom is sure to come, because Yours is the ultimate triumph.” And we’ve seen in the business world how people who deceive people ultimately are found out and end up with consequences. Sometimes it takes a little longer but in the end, “they are routed”.

The problem with bad business practices is that they’re not grounded in reality, so reality does not support their actions. They have to keep covering up their tracks until eventually everything explodes, and the truth comes out.

This is the interesting thing about life. Most, if not all, of us have experienced situations that were unfair. We’ve had to deal with someone in a position of power who is misusing their position. We know that they are being willful and it both angers and frustrates us. What is more frustrating is the powerlessness we feel at the hands of a dictator.

In the case, the best course of action is to stay true to our morals. Many of us during those times have probably considered being deceitful ourselves, asking why we are being so ethical when others aren’t. Again, “, “[T]heir doom is sure to come, because Yours is the ultimate triumph.” We also have to consider how we would feel giving up our integrity and succumbing to sin.

So always be true to yourselves even when others aren’t. Ultimately, you will prevail.

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