לא תענה ברעך עד שקר
The Ninth Commandment, “You Shall Not Bear False Witness” introduces us to a very important subject in Judaism: the value of truth and honesty. In the coming days, through some examples, we will explore how we Jews view the dynamics of these values.
Telling the truth and acting honestly is seen in Judaism as one of the highest religious imperatives. So much so that our Rabbis affirmed that upon our arrival in the World to Come (= life after this life) we will have to answer three questions before the Celestial Tribunal, in order to evaluate the spiritual level that we have reached in our worldly existence. The first question the heavenly court will ask us has to do with our behavior with money. ? נשאת ונתת באמונה “Have you conducted yourself with integrity in your business?” Clearly, our way of acting in our business is considered by our Tora as the most accurate indicator of our religious level.
Illustration: I sell cars and a customer tells me that he wants his new car before the end of the month. And I know that I will not get that car by the end of the month, should I tell the truth to my client and lose a sale, or I should lie to him and tell him that I will get the car. Then, a few days before the end of the month I make some excuses? In this way, I will not be losing a client. Our Tora is very strict about the prohibition of lying. In Shemot 23: 7 the Torah says categorically: מדבר שקר תרחק, “You shall keep yourself away from the lying.” Therefore, even when I know that by telling the truth to my customer, the customer will go somewhere else to buy his car, I must tell the truth.
2000 years ago our Rabbis affirmed that the “seal” of HaShem (God) is: “The Truth”. What does this mean? In antiquity, the seal of a King was what today is a signature. A visual mark that served to identify, for example, that a letter had been written or dictated by the King. Likewise, the presence of HaShem is represented by His signature “The Truth”. In other words: every time we act honestly, especially in our business, we “sign” the name of HaShem. When we are willing to act with integrity, especially when financial losses can be significant, we are affirming with our actions that we value His instruction and we acknowledge His Presence. And so, an honest action is transformed into His signature. My righteousness becomes His seal. Since indirectly and without words, I demonstrate that HaShem exists. And the people who see how I acted will be inspired to declare, “This honest proceeding comes from HaShem (= from His Tora).”
On the other hand, if a Yehudi lies, fabricates stories or acts deceptively to earn money, he “pushes HaShem away.” By acting deceptively in his or her business, by not signing his action with HaShem’s seal, he is causing people to not “seeing” HaShem. His dishonest action, in some way, makes His signature disappear. It is as if that person had “sold” the Presence (or the reputation) of HaShem for money …
Finally, in his book Pele Yo’etz, a mini-encyclopaedia of Jewish moral values, Rabbi Eliezer Pappo refers among other subjects to commercial honesty. And it shows us a different angle about the value of truth and honesty in business. Rabbi Pappo states that apart from his inestimable spiritual value, acting honestly in business is good for our business. Since the most valuable product in the business world is “a good name”. When we act honestly, many times we lose some business and we don’t make money. But in the long term, by acting honestly we are building a good name, a reputation that will surely attract more businesses and more customers to our company. In other words, honesty is not only a very important religious value; acting honestly is also a very intelligent business decision. There is no better asset and advertisement for a businessman or a professional than a good name and a good reputation.