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The Elements of Jewish Living

Business Ethics - Part One

By TorahLab

Twenty-two hundred years ago a great rabbi, Shimon ben Shetach, bought a mule. He brought the mule home, and his students discovered a valuable gem hanging around its neck.
All those around him rejoiced at the rabbi’s good fortune. God has answered his prayers! Shimon ben Shetach took the jewel and went immediately back to the merchant to return the jewel. The merchant looked at him with amazement and proclaimed with misery, “It is clearly your jewel – you bought the mule.” The rabbi argued and said, “No, it is yours – I bought a mule, I didn’t buy a jewel.” Upon hearing the words of the rabbi, the merchant exclaimed’ “Blessed be the God of Shimon be Shetach!”
A more recent story – Sixty years ago, a man in Lithuania went to the post office to buy some stamps. When he came home’ he realized that the postman had given him too much change. He went to Rabbi Yaacov Kaminetzky and asked whether he was entitled to keep the money. The rabbi told him to quickly run to the post office and return the money. A day later, the rabbi was asked the same question by another Jew and again by another. Finally, Reb Yaacov went to the postmaster and began to lecture him. He said’ “You are obviously trying to trick the Jews into not returning the money. It will never happen’ we are guided by the Torah.”
A few years later, during the Nazi occupation, the postman was promoted to higher authority and was responsible for saving and hiding hundreds of Jews. When asked about his behavior, he said the Jews are a good people and referred to the overpayment in the post office.
These stories, in their near simplicity, refer to a very deep axiom of Jewish philosophy.
The Jewish people present a unique phenomenon. A decade ago there was a televangelist scandal. Two of the most famous TV preachers, Jim and Tammy Baker, were implicated in several scandals – financial cheatings, sexual liaisons, tax evasion. The trial was on the nightly news for months. Never during the proceedings did anyone claim that the scandal proved that Christianity is false. Not even that particular branch of Christianity was discredited.
Over and over, Arab terrorists claim the lives of innocent men, women and children. Now, we think, the world will see the true colors of the PLO, or Hamas, or the latest group of Arabs or Moslems shedding Jewish blood. But it never happens. No one reflects on the groups evil – except, perhaps, for a very short period of time.
But let a Jew get caught fixing his books in Wichita, Kansas. Not only does the crime get a disproportionate amount of attention, but, in the minds of many people, this man’s action reflects on all Jews.
Most of us refer to this phenomenon as racism. I would like to suggest that it is much deeper than that.
When God created the world, He created the Jews to be different. “You shall be a nation of priests, a holy nation.” A priest is one who sets standards, who teaches the world how to behave. A priest must be center stage in order to do his job. For God’s plan to be successful, He had to place us in the spotlight of creation. We are not only the focal point of the world, which is demonstrated by the tremendous attention given the Jewish people and the State of Israel in the media, but we are in fact the hub of the wheel. One slight turn on our part will affect the world.
In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. The US and the allies came to the rescue. A full scale war broke out. Suddenly SCUD missiles came raining down on Israel. Why? Israel, kept studiously out of the fighting. Were we, by any definition, the cause of the events? In a sense the answer is yes. It is a hard fact to swallow, but our behavior, says the Torah, affects world politics.
The Chofetz Chaim used to tell his students, “Our Talmudic discussions here in Radin directly affect the goings on in the British Parliament.”
The main purpose of being the nerve center of civilization is, of course, to teach the world good. And we did. 3,000 years ago the Jews taught the world about basic morals. Do not murder, steal, covet or lie. These virtues are today universally accepted as self evident. These universally accepted morals originated when a fraction of the world population accepted these principles in a wilderness.
This is why, when the rabbi returned the jewel to the merchant, the merchant did not say, “God bless you, Shimon ben Shetach” but rather “May the God of Shimon ben Shetach be blessed.” The Jew’s action was an immediate reflection on his God and his people.

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