Chillul Hashem and Red Light on a Deserted Street
QUESTION 20: HOW DOES ONE FACTOR IN THE
POSSIBILITY OF CHILLUL HASHEM (PROFANING HASHEM'S NAME)
WHEN THERE IS A SITUATION WHERE ONE SHOULD BE HONEST?
RABBI BELSKY'S ANSWER
If the possibility is extremely miniscule that there
may be a chilul Hashem, then a person is not obligated
to be concerned about it. But in general a person is
obligated to be wary of doing anything that could bring a
chilul Hashem and to be strict about it. A person can't
calculate the possibility in any precise terms. Any person
who looks at the consequences of his actions knows whether
a certain action is improper. In general, if a person considers
doing something which is risky and, should he be observed, it
would be a chilul Hashem, then it's the type of thing a person
QUESTION 21: RED LIGHT ON A DESERTED STREET
It is early in the morning, the streets are deserted,
and I am rushing in my car to catch a bus, a minute
away from missing it. When I'm a block away from the light,
the light turns yellow, and then when I'm 15 feet from the
light, it turns red. I look around and there are no cars or
people. There are two ways of looking at this moment: the
law is flexible, and I can go through the light because I
almost got through the intersection before the light turned
red, and there is no one around, and this is an emergency
situation since there won't be another bus for another
30 minutes. Or I can say this is a test to see how honest
I am, to see how much I can withstand the temptations of
dishonesty, because what is wrong is wrong and one who
trusts in Hashem would believe that no good can come from
going through a red light. What is the correct way to see
the situation, and what is the correct way to act?
RABBI BELSKY'S ANSWER
This is a difficult question to answer. The question here
is not one of honesty, it is one of dina d'malchusa dina.
The government has a right to say that these are our streets,
and we only give permission to drive on them if drivers follow
the rules. The government may be able to be flexible in certain
circumstances -- where everyone would agree that it is obvious
that a person cannot follow the letter of the law -- but that
would only be in a case where no one else's privileges are taken
away. The laws of the land are not like the laws of the ketores
(incense in the Temple), some of the most precise and demanding
laws in the Torah. On the other hand generally, if you have a
reasonable story, the authorities still won't believe you if
you are caught, because people come up with all sorts of stories.
But if there is no risk factor, and it is going to cause a long
delay, it may be permissible. But that can only be said in very
unusual circumstances. And even when it's justified, it should
only be done rarely.
NEXT WEEK'S QUESTION 22: HONESTY WHILE BUYING SOFTWARE ON WEB
A software company has a web site where one can buy their
software. One button says 'click here to buy the software'
and the price is listed at $99. Another button says 'click
here to buy the software if you have a competing product', and
the price is $79. They don't ask for any proof that you have the
competing software, the system works totally on the 'honor system'.
Can one assume that most people 'lie' and that the company doesn't
really care as long as you buy the product, or is it wrong to use
the second button if you don't already have a competing product?
NEXT WEEK'S QUESTION 23: CALLING UP TO SAY YOU HAVEN'T BEEN BILLED
I have a friend who has a small 'web site', and he uses a small
Internet Service Provider company that gives him connectivity.
For the past 6 months, my friend has not been billed. He fully
intends to pay, but he is short of cash right now. It's even
possible that the owner of the Internet Service Provider company
is not anxious for the money, and is confident he'll get paid when
my friend is doing better, even though they never discussed it.
Is my friend obligated to call company up and say that he hasn't
been billed, even though it might mean he won't be able to pay
even if he is billed?
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