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 shouldn’t do.
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?
Honesty, Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Yisroel Belsky Shli”ta and Torah.org.