The Talmud teaches that when a person leaves this world the first question they must face in the Next World is “Did you do your business dealings with Emunah?” This can be interpreted as “honestly” or, alternatively “with faith in God”.
Unfortunately, Jews throughout history have gotten a bad reputation in money matters. Much of this was thrust upon us by those who disliked us. The term “to Jew somebody down” has been used as a derogatory way of saying that Jewish people are cheap, aggressive with their money and less than honest.
The Torah approach to dealing in money matters is established in this week’s Torah portion by the father of the Jewish people, Yaakov, who also carries the description as being “Ish Emet” the man of Truth.
The 12 sons of Yaakov, the foundation of the Jewish people, are born while Yaakov is in the home of his sly, sneaky, and “anti-Semitic” father-in-law, Lavan. And, though, he is fully aware that he is repeatedly being taken advantage of, Yaakov doesn’t try to beat Lavan at his own game. He maintains his integrity.
In his dramatic final speech to his father in law, Yaakov gives a message to all future generations about how we should approach money:
Already twenty years have I been with you, and your cattle have not miscarried, neither have I eaten the rams of your flocks. I have not brought you anything defective; I would suffer its loss; from my hand you would demand it, what was stolen by day and what was stolen at night. I was [in the field] by day when the heat consumed me, and the frost at night, and my sleep wandered from my eyes. This is twenty years that I have spent in your house. I served you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your animals, and you changed my wages ten times ten times. Had not the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, been for me, you would now have sent me away empty handed. God has seen my affliction and the toil of my hands, and He reproved [you] last night."
Yaakov is setting the standard for us. Be great at your job. Never try to cut corners or take something that isn’t yours. Sometimes it is worth it to take a loss for the sake of integrity. Work extra hard. And, even when dealing with tricky people, believe that the Hashem has an address for every penny that switches hands.
Honesty and integrity apply not only to the employee but to the employer as well. The following amazing story demonstrates this point:
A pious Jew approached the great Kabbalist the Arizal and complained about a personal difficulty. The Arizal responded that it came about because he was dishonest in business. Shocked by the accusation and quite sure that he did his best to be 100 percent honest, the man gathered all of his employees and associates, put on the table a large sum of money and announced that if he owed anyone any amount of money, they should please come and take whatever was owed to them.
No one budged. The man begged the crowd not to be ashamed and insisted that anyone who has ever felt slighted by him should please come forth and claim what they were owed. After a few moments, an older women who worked in one of the man's factories came forward and took an amount of money as small as the value of a couple of dollars. The man asked her how it came about that he owed her this money. She responded by saying that had he not insisted, she wouldn't have come forward at all. However, she did feel that based on her age and level of expertise, she should be making slightly more money for the jobs that she did. Shortly afterward the man returned to the Arizal, who told him that he had brought about a complete rectification of his flaw.
The great Rabbi Shimon Schwab used to say “I live with the hope that one day there will be a new version of the dictionary that will translate “to Jew somebody” as to be scrupulously honest, to be decent”. May we merit to be a light on to the nations and fulfill these holy words”.