By Rabbi Daniel Travis
To Adam He said, “You listened to your wife and ate from the tree
regarding which I specifically gave you orders, saying, ‘Do not eat from
it.’ You shall derive food from the ground with anguish all the days of
your life…By the sweat of your brow you will eat bread.” (Bereshith
Since the curse of Adam, man has had to work to earn his sustenance. Our
Sages tell us that while engaged in work he must make sure to adhere
strictly to the Torah’s high precepts of honesty. This principle is so
important that even if it entails great monetary loss, one must distance
oneself from falsehood.(1)
Could this not cause financial hardship? King Dovid reassures us
that, “The truth shall sprout from the earth.”(2) This is a sign that when
we speak the truth, we will receive the rain we need for our physical
sustenance,(3) as the next verse testifies, “The land will yield its
In contrast, theft and breach of trust are reasons that God brings drought
and poverty.(5) The Talmudic sage Ulah was once in Bavel and he saw
luminous clouds, a sure sign of rain. He warned everyone to bring their
utensils inside, to spare them from damage. In the end the rain did not
come. Significantly, Ulah attributed this unexpected change in weather
patterns to the dishonesty of the people of Bavel.(6)
Why is integrity so important in earning a living? The reason that a
person works for their sustenance is as retribution to Adam and Chava who
were enticed by the serpent’s sheker to disobey God’s will. Someone who
tries to earn a living dishonestly is making the same mistake that they
made: they believe that they stand to gain by pursuing falsehood. They are
destined to share the same fate as Adam and Chava: they will lose much
more than they gained.
Just as truth is the key to agricultural bounty, it is likewise the key to
every form of worldly prosperity. A businessman was looking over his
invoices and saw that he had been grossly overpaid for a certain order
that he had sent out. Instead of remaining quiet, he reported the mistake
to his client, and returned all of the money that was not rightfully
coming to him. Although in the short term he gave up a large sum of money,
in the long run he profited tremendously from his reputation for complete
1. Sha’arei Teshuvah 3, 182.
2. Tehillim 85:12.
3. Reishith Chochmah, Masah U’matan 3.
4. Tehillim 85:13.
5. Ta’anith 9a.
6. Ibid 9b.
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org