Friday, 1 May 2009

Parshat Kedoshim - Holiness. Honesty in Business


Parshat Kedoshim – Holy – is filled with the best Torah advice we could ever be given about how to live as Jews. How to be holy.

Students at Yeshivot today spend most of their days involved with a variety of Gemara texts teaching students the values of dealing with bulls breaking through fences and goring the neighbour's bull. They learn the values of whether it is permitted to pour hot food or liquid over cold on Shabbat, and just how long to wait after eating meat before eating milk. And they learn a variety of tremendously important laws that take up valued time as they explore what the Rishonim and Acharonim (early and later commentaries) have to say about these points.

In addition, it often happens that such Torah scholars become experts in the principles of washing one's hands correctly before eating bread, setting up an Eruv for carrying on the Shabbat, tying one's Tzizit correctly and making the correct blessings on food. Of course, the laws are not just important – they are the very blood life of Torah.

But these laws usually affect the relationship that a Jew has between Jew and… G-d. In addition to this, there are important laws that must be learnt that apply between man and his fellow man. In fact, out of the four sections of the most basic legal code of Jewish law – the Shulchan Aruch – one complete section (one quarter) is completely devoted to some very special laws between man and his fellow man – namely the laws of business.

Sadly, the average student of Torah will never read them – ever. In fact, he may be an outstanding businessman already (having gained millions of dollars) that he may feel he simply no longer needs to learn the ins and outs of real Torah business. That section – Choshen Mishpat – usually hides itself in most libraries – or at best displays itself beautifully as it simply decorates an already full library carrying heavy leather bound books dealing with the principles of the exact time to wait between meat and milk or the particular details of first vessel, second vessel and third vessel for cooking purposes on Shabbat.

After all this (which is truly important and absolute necessary,) one does however wonder just where the laws of business have gone to. After all, Parshat Kedoshim speaks about these laws in great detail. One learns from chapter 19 vv 11-13 such great principles as not stealing (one of those listed on the "Top 10"), not denying falsely, not lying to each other and not swearing falsely. Easy things to stumble upon when concealing one's truest intentions in a business transaction. And it continues to detail not cheating one's fellow – not robbing from him, and one which amazes many to this day – not withholding the wages due to a worker… until the morning!

In a later section of the Torah, such laws are elaborated upon when it comes to being honest with one's measures, for example, not setting a scale to be slightly off one way or the other, or simply swallowing up the extra 5 cents change due to another simply because "we don't have 5 cents… so you lose!" (For some it's 5 cents, and for others it's just a few dollars. Yet for others, it can be thousands and more!)

There are hundreds of chapters with thousands of laws dealing with honest business dealings – as laid out in Choshen Mishpat. But a simple look at the points brought out in Parshat Kedoshim wake us up to realize it's the simple things that count. Paying one's employee on time. A far cry from the excuses most come up with – that they simply don't have money. Although they employ and get others to work for them, they simply refuse to pay on time – because *they* don't have the money now. Isn't it a wonder that they were able to use the other's skills however?!

There are those that will spend hours on a telephone conversation to find out if you're really the right person to consult with – while not paying a cent for the other's time, or consulting for a one hour appointment, staying two hours and then claiming that they really only needed the hour scheduled for – and will therefore not pay for the additional hour.

Then there are those who change the payment system. After a good job done and payment is asked, many will pay less, with excuses ranging from anything such as "I watched you work, and I don't believe you used all the time to attend to my problem and have decided (of my own accord) to pay you what I feel is right!" to anything like "You can't charge me that amount when others charge less." The excuses are too innumerable to count, and an entire web site could be set up for those looking for excuses, where they could pick up the exact and most fitting one for the occasion!

Then there are those who do not honor appointments, taking the time of another, using it, without payment – because they simply were not able to come that day.

But the same people who will claim these principles of great "honesty" will be the first to become irritated at seeing others taking chances by putting in sugar into their cup of coffee before the coffee is poured (on Shabbat of course.) They will critcise and become annoyed to see the serious violations being committed.

Where have we gone when it comes to real honesty in business?! When it comes to treating another human being with the respect due for his effort in the work he provides. In paying him an honest wage (a livable wage?!) In paying him – on time! In paying him with a thank you and a sense of appreciation for the work done. In being as particular with respecting his wealth – as one would with respecting the Shabbat day, Kashrut or the laws of Family Purity.

Perhaps it is our focus on the nitty-gritty (call it "between G-d and me, rather than the concern of any other human being on the planet) – rather than the reality – those things that need to be worked upon, that the final Geula has not yet arrived.

In 1994, a soldier in Israel by the name of Nachshon Wachsman was captured by Arabs. His parents put in tremendous effort to do everything they could to save him. Candles were lit. Prayer rallies were held at the Kotel – the Western Wall. It seems that there was tremendous Jewish unity at this point in time!

Unfortunately the prayers did not help, and Nachshon HY"D was murdered (see story)

Whether the following story is true or not – it still carries a profound lesson for us all and should awaken each of us to realize the importance of honesty in business:

At this time when Nachshon had been captured, a young man who had been in a coma awoke, requesting to speak to one of the leading Rabbis of the generation. He had a story to tell him…

He said that he had seen a certain elderly woman in his dream coma state – and had been given a message from her to tell over. When the Rabbi showed the man a picture of his own (now deceased) wife – he confirmed that this was the woman who delivered the message. She told him that during this period of time, the unity of the Jewish people had been so great, that it was appropriate and right that Moshiach would reveal himself, taking us all out of this exile! But there was one thing holding things back – the problems of theft and forbidden money that people had taken through their business activities.

Without money, none of us can live. It does make the world go around, because it allows us to interact with each other, giving and taking correctly – and ultimately helping each other to live as real people should. Everybody deserves a chance at living in life – living with the most basic necessities that we all want for ourselves.

The moment we take into our own hands, the choice of choosing how *we* are going to do our "honest" business, we take away from the very life of the other. The other who works hard to live – just as you do. Who wishes to own a house – just as you do. Who wishes to own a car – as you do. Who wishes to wear new, comfortable, and attractive clothing – as you do. Who wishes to eat the tasty foods the G-d has blessed us with – as you do. In fact, every other Jew wants nothing more – than what you do.

And therefore not for nothing do we learn in this same Parsha – immediately afterwards in fact – to love each other as we love ourselves. Rabbi Akiva teaches that this is a great principle in the Torah. In fact, Hillel the Sage, teaches about this principle – the one of "what is hateful to yourself, do not do to others" – that this is the entire Torah, and the rest is mere commentary. What is there left to do – but to study it, so as to know how to behave correctly.

A short look around should wake us all up to realize the state of affairs we find ourselves in. One in which the Jewish people are far from free. Each of us is still bound to the regular laws of nature – a world filled with violence and more…

Perhaps, instead of the sole focus of our learning being on how to keep the Shabbat day correctly (which should not be taken lightly!) – we should also spend *much* time focused simply on how to be fair with our fellow when it comes to money – when it comes to business. Not just for the sake of learning – but to actually implement in our day to day lives.

Your fellow's wealth is as precious to him – as yours is to you. His time is as precious to him as yours is to you. And his very life is as precious to him as yours is to you.

May we go from strength to strength – from loving each other as we love ourselves, to ultimately fulfilling the teaching of Rabbi Akiva in the best way possible, to be deserving to becoming as great a student as Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai – who did fulfill this teaching as it was taught, and ultimately bringing in the light of Torah, the light of goodness – of G-d – and the ultimate Geula – redemption – immediately!

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