These [animals] he gave to his servant, each herd by itself. He said to his servants, “Go on ahead of me, and keep a space between one herd and the next.” (Bereshith 32:17)
The reason Yaakov did not send Esav his gift all at once, but rather gave it in a series of installments spread out in time and space, was to impress Esav with the size and generosity of his gift.1 Was Yaakov deceiving Esav into thinking that his gift was larger than it actually was? No. Any technique used to highlight the positive qualities of an item, so long as it does not cover up any negative aspects, is considered honest conduct.2
Similarly, in business, as long as one conveys only the truth and does not create a false impression, it is permitted to call people’s attention to the fine qualities of one’s product without restraint.3 This applies to advertising as well as to any other technique employed to attract would-be customers. Nevertheless, a businessman must be careful that in advertising his product he does not imply that other people’s products are inferior. It is permitted for him to say that his wares are better than those of his competitors, but he may not say that other people or companies are selling inferior merchandise, or that they are overcharging for their merchandise. To make such claims would constitute a violation of the Torah prohibition of lashon hara.4
The Talmudic sage Rav Papa once said that someone who drinks wine when he could drink beer has squandered his money.5 Seemingly Rav Papa’s words are not a violation of the prohibitions mentioned above, for he was not speaking out against any particular manufacturer or storeowner. His message was rather that beer is comparable in quality to wine and is far more affordable.6 However some commentators explain that Rav Papa made this statement for his own personal gain, because he himself was a beer manufacturer.7 According to these opinions we may understand that Rav Papa sincerely believed that drinking beer was superior to drinking wine, and that is why he made a strong statement about the benefits of drinking beer. Although he made his statement to assist his business, there was nothing false about what he said.
1. Rashi, Ramban and Seforno on Bereshith 32:17.
2. Mesillath Yesharim, Ch. 11; Ruling of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach brought in Titein Emeth L’Yaakov p.106.
3. Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 228:6.
4. Chofetz Chaim 5:7.
5. Shabboth 140b.
6. Meiri ibid.
7. Maharsha ibid.
Text Copyright © 2009 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org