by Rabbi Chaim Dovid Green
In this week's reading we are directed not to cheat in business. The Torah
says explicitly "one should not overcharge his brethren" (Leviticus 25:14).
Being that the land of Israel was divided among tribes and again among the
families making up the tribes, the intention is that each family has an
ancestral right to the land it was given. In most cases even when land is
sold, it is really a form of leasing, and the land goes back to its
ancestral owner in the year known as Yoveil (Jubilee), which occurs every
fifty years. The land is given a fair market value per year, and the buyer
purchases the land on that basis. It is in this context that we are
instructed not to overcharge.
In the Talmud (Tractate Tamid 28.a), there is a discussion as to which is a
good general approach in life. One of the opinions is that one should
embrace faith to an extreme. Rashi, the great medieval commentator,
explains this statement as follows. One should do business faithfully, and
not cheat people.
Rabbi Shalom Noach Brezovsky, the Slonimer Rebbe, points out that this
explanation is difficult to understand. Doing business faithfully and not
cheating is not one of several approaches, it is a directive explicit in
the Torah. It also seems redundant to say "do business faithfully" and
also "don't cheat people." Not cheating is included in doing business
The Slonimer Rebbe explains this in the following way. There are some
character traits which are appropriate at times and inappropriate at other
times. Jealousy, for instance, is appropriate if it motivates one to try
harder and accomplish more good. It is inappropriate if it motivates
someone to hatred and bitterness. Many traits have this in common. The
two exceptions are the traits of truth and faith. Truth and faith are
always appropriate in every situation.
The following is an example of truth. Rav Safra was reciting K'rias Sh'ma,
part of the daily liturgy. Rav Safra was unable to interrupt his
recitation when someone came to him and offered him a sum of money for an
item he was selling. The lack of response was taken as a refusal of the
offer, and the purchaser offered more. This repeated itself several times
until Rav Safra was finished, and then Rav Safra told the man that he would
accept his original offer, as he had accepted that price but could not say
so before he had offered more. This can be what Rashi meant when he said
not to cheat people. Even when he would be permitted by the Torah to
charge a particular sum, but it involved even a slight dishonesty, such as
the case with Rav Safra, one should still not "cheat". One must strive for
the most extreme degree of truth.
Regarding faith the Slonimer Rebbe quotes a work called the Be'er Moshe.
Sometimes a person might think that if he does a dishonest act in business
he stands to gain a great profit. In reality it is determined by G-d what
a person will make each year. Someone who embraces that knowledge
seriously knows that "all of the kings of the east and the west could not
add or subtract one iota from that which was decreed for this person to
receive." In that context cheating and dishonesty has no place. One can
never ultimately obtain more than what is coming to him. This is the
meaning of doing business faithfully.
The Slonimer Rebbe quotes one of his predecessors that the businessmen of
his time were always in a state of fear that their buyers would not be
repeat customers and they would lose business to their competition. About
that the previous Rebbe said that it was already decreed in heaven when the
buyers left their villages which merchant they would go to, and how much he
would spend, and that the merchants really had nothing to be worrying
about. This is the approach of faith, and with this approach honest
business practices are the only way of going about things.
Accordingly, doing business faithfully, and not cheating people are not
just laws we must follow; they are an approach to life based on a
perspective which embraces honesty with oneself and trust in The One Above.
This is the kind of people the Torah wants us to be.
Text Copyright © 1999 Rabbi Dovid Green and
Project Genesis, Inc.