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The Challenge of Wealth - Class 5

Parshas Va'eschanan

By Dr. Meir Tamari

" The beginning of Your word is truth and Your just commandments are forever" (Psalms 119).Rava explained that from the end of the Ten Commandments-mitzvot between Man and Man-we learn the truth of the first commandments between Man and G-d. Rashi, quoting the midrash, tells us that the nations of the world complained at first that the Lord gave the commandments for His own glorification. However, when they heard the social commandments, they exclaimed that the beginning was also perfect truth"(Talmud, Kiddushin 31a). "The nations of the world think that G-d commanded the social mitzvot because they are a self-evident and logical truth. Israel, however, says, 'you are a God of truth and there is no other truth'. Therefore one may not steal because the God of truth forbade it and one may not rob because He said so; and thereby this injunction becomes truth"( Kalonymos of Pishiasetzana, who died in the Warsaw Ghetto). So economic immorality and all the sins between people are, additionally sins against G-d who commanded them. We speak of forbidden and permitted business practices rather than ethical or unethical ones.

Sins between Man and Man- the social sins- are also sins against HaShem. Maimonides explains that false weights and measures entail greater punishment than sexual immorality, because the later are only against G-d. The Shulchan Arukh ( Choshen Mishpat, section 231, subsection 19), however, writes that this is because their atonement is more difficult, requiring giving charity and doing good deeds, in addition. Sexual immorality may be atoned for through the usual ways of teshuvah for sins against G-d, whereas for monetary sins, in addition, one needs to compensate the damaged party. Since this may be difficult or even impossible, in those cases where the fraud was perpetrated against many people, atonement may not be achieved. So, this inferior form of teshuvah, through charity, is granted;

Don Yitschak Abarbanel explains that it is the Divine origin of the social laws that makes them different from those that are the product of human intelligence, in two ways.

(1). The Torah insists on reward and punishment by the All seeing and All knowing G-d, before whom there is neither forgetfulness nor bribery, who gave these commandments. This ensures that people know that there is no possibility of the secret crimes or hidden actions that constitute white-collar crime, injustice and exploitation.

(2). Divine wisdom expands the concepts of economic morality and business ethics far beyond the grasp of human intelligence. "All the monetary laws obligatory on Israel are forbidden also to Noachides as well, under the injunction against theft.[ Rambam deduces this from their obligation to have a just legal system]

These include:

Theft [not to steal anything in secret; to appoint a bet din that judges and punishes stealing; one needs to consistently see that one has true weights and measures, does no injustice with them, nor even possesses them; not to encroach on a neighbors property [competition that deprives others of their livelihood]; not to steal humans and sell them (Maimonides, Introduction to Hilkhot Geneivah)].

Robbery [forcefully taking another's property, even a debt owed to one]; not to oppress somebody by denying their debts, nor to abuse a trust fund or a deposit, nor to withhold wages [actually there is also a positive obligation to make payment on time]; nor to prevent workers from eating of the produce they are working with [but not to abuse this right. This would seem to apply to some benefits provided by modern labor relations]; not to muzzle an animal during his working, so as to prevent it from eating [it is meritorious to muzzle one’s animal to protect another's produce]; nor even to badger and pester people to legally sell something which the seller does not wish to sell; not to covet other peoples standard of living [which is so often the cause of fraud of theft]; to return that which was robbed; not to ignore a lost article, [which in both negative and positive forms applies to the protection of other people's possessions from loss through the other people's plotting or conniving-hostile takeovers?] (Maimonides, introduction to Hikhot Gezeilah)];

Ona'ah. Price fraud through over-charging [exploiting ignorance of prices both in relation to the market price and as a percentage of costs];

The obligations of Bailies(Din Shomrim). Relating to a person’s degree of responsibility for property entrusted to them in various capacities [as agents, craftsmen, chief executive officers, and certain classes of employees];

Damages to property or to another’s person [not only physical damage but also causing others financial loss. If a person damages another's property, the payment of the damage brings spiritual atonement but it requires appeasement of the injured person for the bodily damage suffered, before one can be forgiven. Furthermore, a person must prevent damage caused by their property or person to another and is required to remove dangerous objects, even from the public thoroughfare];

Laws of borrowing and lending [to make interest free loans, both to the poor and to the rich]; not to oppress debtors by vigorously demanding repayment from one who cannot pay; not to secure debts through coercion; to return an essential article, which serves as security, whenever the debtor requires it; not to delay this return; not to demand a lien from a widow-irrespective of whether she's rich or poor; not to require a lien on tools or equipment required for subsistence, as security; not to lend money at interest nor to serve as an agent for such a transaction nor as a witness nor as a scribe nor as surety (Maimonides, Introduction to Hilkhot Malveh Ve Loveh)];

Laws of selling [not to defraud in buying or selling by false advertising or non disclosure of defects or by creating a false impression, that the goods or services produce status or other irrelevant facts Shulchan Arukh, Choshen Mishpat, Section )]" (Ramban, Bereishit 34:14)

“You shall do that which is right and good’ (Devarim, 6: 18). This is written after all these commandments, so that we must go beyond the letter of the law”(Ramban). Ethics begins where the law ends.


Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Meir Tamari and Project Genesis, Inc.

Dr. Tamari is a renowned economist, Jewish scholar, and founder of the Center For Business Ethics (www.besr.org) in Jerusalem.


 






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