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Behaving Like a Jew at Work

Published on Monday March 11th, 2019

What’s the first question every person will be asked when (after passing at the age of 120), he ascends to the Heavenly Court?

The Talmud (in the treatise of Shabbat 31a) tells us:

Have you been honest in your business?

For various generations, synagogue attendance and practicing Jewish traditions have taken center stage in the lives of many Jews. Many of us feel our Jewish identity consists of prayer, donning our Tallit and Tefillin, following the Scroll of the Torah in the alleys of the Beit Haknesset, lighting Sabbath candles and eating Kosher.

Outside our home or the synagogue, we feel isolated, as if walking through a jungle where our Judaism has no place and voice.

This feeling is totally erroneous. It could lead us to believe in the fallacy that God expects us to manifest our Jewishness less than two hours per day.

While less known, the laws between Ben Adam LeChavero, (between man and his neighbor) are described in hundreds of pages in the code of Jewish laws (the Shulchan Aruch).  Discussed at length in several treatises of the Talmud, they overlap and affect other laws. Moreover, we cannot do Teshuva on Yom Kippur if we have violated any of these obligations towards our fellow men, not until we have repaired the damage we inflicted upon our friend, such as returning stolen money, (for example) and asking wholehearted forgiveness.

These laws stress the importance of loving one's neighbor. One must be especially vigilant to avoid cheating one’s neighbor. Above all, we must avoid taking even one cent that we did not rightfully earn.

It should be noted that it is strictly forbidden to cheat or steal from a fellow Jew, and equally forbidden to swindle any non-Jew, regardless of his nationality, religion or the harm he has perpetrated upon us.

What Does this Mean in Practical Terms?

This means that in the area of our work and livelihood, Hashem has demanded honesty and transparency from all men and women.

For example, employers and service providers must compensate their employees and suppliers on time. The latter must be treated with respect. Products for sale must be advertised in the clearest way possible so that the customer knows full well the nature of the product he is buying. Prices must be fixed honestly and one must never take advantage of an unsuspecting customer.

We must make sure not to charge interest on loans between Jews or a Jewish-owned company (the laws concerning interest on loans applies to Jews among themselves exclusively).

Employees or contractors paid on an hourly basis must avoid using even a minute of their working time on personal matters. Make sure to turn off or silence their phones to focus properly during working hours, come to work in good form, respect the company’s rules, avoid lying in a job interview, never use the company’s assets for personal purposes (from making personal calls on the company phone to stealing paper clips and pens), behave respectfully towards all colleagues and workers. Colleagues must avoid talking among themselves about their low wages or deficient working conditions, erroneously thinking the latter gives them an alibi to break the rules.

Clearly, we must strive to be model employees doing Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of the divine name) all day long.

In general, we must trade services and sell products that we would buy for ourselves without feeling scammed.

Moreover, the Halakha (Hoshen Mishpat - 228: 6) further stresses this concern for infinite honesty: It is forbidden to sell non-kosher meat to a non-Jew if there’s room to discern he keeps Kosher!

Why not? We know full well that a non-Jewish person can eat non-kosher meat without restriction.

Theft of Spirit

This prohibition is called "theft of spirit" (Gnevat Daat) which the Rambam considers even more serious than plain theft because the person in question may never realize he was deceived.

Under no circumstance does the Torah accept that we conceal critical information from a client, even it the latter does not necessarily affect him.

These are just some examples of mitzvot Bein Adam Lechavero. The duty to study these laws scrupulously is incumbent upon every one of us.

Some of you may claim that the business world does not operate in this fashion. That many rich people have raised above the rest of mortals by behaving dishonestly; that it is impossible to survive in business without throat-cutting, cheating, lying or trying to convince a customer to buy a product when we know full well he doesn’t need it.

All these assumptions are false and the Torah demands we fight adamantly against them...

If one analyzes Yaakov's life as described in the Torah, we see that during twenty years, he worked hard for his father-in-law, Lavan, who is considered, according to the oral tradition, as the sine qua non-epitome of dishonesty (Note his name "White." Yes, crooks often claim to be white as snow to justify their actions when they are asked for accountability).

Yes, Yaakov lived among thieves, swindlers, and liars, but he was extra careful never to cheat his employer and to earn his livelihood honestly.

Twenty long years of Yaakov’s impeccable behavior did not elicit the slightest complaint from his employer.

Yaakov entrusted his fate to Hashem. He knew and internalized that Hashem was his only true "boss" and that He would provide for his needs no matter what.

After this episode, Yaakov earned the name Israel.

We are the children of Israel. By behaving righteously and honestly, we represent God in the world. Let us take this mission to heart and trust that He will provide for our needs as He sees fit and let’s be scrupulous about any deviance in how we handle our business affairs.

Jeremie BERREBI - © Torah-Box

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