Monday, January 03, 2005

Being Honest

In The Book of Jewish Values,

Week 1, Day 2

"'Let Your Fellow's Money Be as Precious to You as Your Own'"

Rabbi Telushkin comments upon an often neglected aspect of honesty. The point he makes here is that we should be honest in our dealings with other people. Honesty is so important it is compared to observing the Bible itself: "honesty in one's dealings with others is equated with observance of the whole Torah." (p. 5)

In fact, he points out, Jewish tradition teaches that "the first question one will be asked by the heavenly court [for judgment] after one dies is not 'Did you believe in God?' or 'Did you observe the Jewish holidays?' but rather 'Did you conduct your business affairs honestly?'" (5)

Was I just? Did I give what was due the other person? Did I give what belonged to him? It either belongs to him because of his nature as a human or it belongs to him because of some agreement or arrangement. Either way, it belongs to him. Did I cheat someone? Or did I treat him honestly? Did I treat him the way I would want to be treated?

How we treat our neighbor is important. It is not just what we say we believe or make ourselves do as far as religious observances are concerned. It is those, but it is also, perhaps moreso, how we treat others. This command is so important, one rabbi offers the following guideline: "Let your fellow's money be as precious to you as your own...." (5)

Why is money so important? It is not a good in itself. As P. J. O'Rourke says, you can't eat it. You can't drink it. You can't wear it. (Well, maybe I'll leave that one alone.) It is a tool. It is used for other things, to get other things. Moreover, it is used for productivity and increasing more wealth. Anyhow, before I get too far off course, let's close that parentheses.

How we treat others in dealings is very important. Do we cheat them? Do we give them the same respect we would want? Do we let them know what is really going on? What the true value is of something we are exchanging with them? Do we give good reason for the warning, caveat emptor?

Do we return money when we find it and we know whom it belongs to?

Dealings with money are so important that one rabbi concluded, "Only he who is reliable in money matters may be considered pious." (6)

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