Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Importance of Righteousness in Business

In this week's Parsha, Ki Teitzei, there are several important moral imperatives that are discussed. The first one I would like to discuss is the commandment of Shiluach HaKein (sending away the mother bird). The verse says (Devarim 22:6-7):

ו. כִּי יִקָּרֵא קַן צִפּוֹר לְפָנֶיךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּכָל עֵץ אוֹ עַל הָאָרֶץ אֶפְרֹחִים אוֹ בֵיצִים וְהָאֵם רֹבֶצֶת עַל הָאֶפְרֹחִים אוֹ עַל הַבֵּיצִים לֹא תִקַּח הָאֵם עַל הַבָּנִים:
 6. If a bird's nest chances before you on the road, on any tree, or on the ground, and [it contains] fledglings or eggs, if the mother is sitting upon the fledglings or upon the eggs, you shall not take the mother upon the young.

ז. שַׁלֵּחַ תְּשַׁלַּח אֶת הָאֵם וְאֶת הַבָּנִים תִּקַּח לָךְ לְמַעַן יִיטַב לָךְ וְהַאֲרַכְתָּ יָמִים:
7. You shall send away the mother, and [then] you may take the young for yourself, in order that it should be good for you, and you should lengthen your days.

The best way to explain this verse is to bring in the Rambam on the subject. He says (The Guide 3:48):

It is also prohibited to kill an animal with its young on the same day (Lev. xxii. 28), in order that people should be restrained and prevented from killing the two together in such a manner that the young is slain in the sight of the mother; for the pain of the animals under such circumstances is very great. There is no difference in this case between the pain of man and the pain of other living beings, since the love and tenderness of the mother for her young ones is not produced by reasoning, but by imagination, and this faculty exists not only in man but in most living beings. This law applies only to ox and lamb, because of the domestic animals used as food these alone are permitted to us, and in these cases the mother recognises her young.

The same reason applies to the law which enjoins that we should let the mother fly away when we take the young. The eggs over which the bird sits, and the young that are in need of their mother, are generally unfit for food, and when the mother is sent away she does not see the taking of her young ones, and does not feel any pain. In most cases, however, this commandment will cause man to leave the whole nest untouched, because [the young or the eggs], which he is allowed to take, are, as a rule, unfit for food. If the Law provides that such grief should not be caused to cattle or birds, how much more careful must we be that we should not cause grief to our fellow men. When in the Talmud (Ber. p. 33b) those are blamed who use in their prayer the phrase, "Thy mercy extendeth to young birds," it is the expression of the one of the two opinions mentioned by us, namely, that the precepts of the Law have no other reason but the Divine will. We follow the other opinion. (That the commandments have reasons and are not JUST the will of the divine)

According to the Rambam a man must have mercy on ANYTHING that can feel emotional pain. A person must take into consideration the feelings of even an animal. This leads the Rambam to say that if the Torah is telling us to care about an animal's feelings, how much more so does the Torah emphasize how we should treat our fellow man and his or her feelings. This is especially true if we look at the reward that one gets for sending away the mother bird, "In order that it should be good for you, and you should lengthen your days." Supposedly, the lengthening of ones days, whatever it really means, is one of the greatest rewards a person can acquire in this world. That is why it is also the reward for honoring ones parents as it says in Exodus (20:12), "Honor your father and your mother, in order that your days be lengthened on the land that the Lord, your God, is giving you." 

It is clear, according to the Rambam, that the point of the laws of the Torah are to make us into kinder and more caring people, as well as other things. G-D wants us to care about the emotions of animals, and even more so the emotions of people. Therefore, if the reward for caring about an animals feelings is so great then what is the reward for caring about people's feelings? 

G-D, in all of His wisdom, does not solely focus on a positive way to care for the emotions of a person's fellow man like He did by the commandment of sending away the mother bird, rather He mentions both the positive and the negative aspects of not caring for one's fellow man and caring for them. It says (Devarim 25:13-16):
יג  לֹא-יִהְיֶה לְךָ בְּכִיסְךָ, אֶבֶן וָאָבֶן:  גְּדוֹלָה, וּקְטַנָּה. 13 Thou shalt not have in thy bag diverse weights, a great and a small.
יד  לֹא-יִהְיֶה לְךָ בְּבֵיתְךָ, אֵיפָה וְאֵיפָה:  גְּדוֹלָה, וּקְטַנָּה. 14 Thou shalt not have in thy house diverse measures, a great and a small.
טו  אֶבֶן שְׁלֵמָה וָצֶדֶק יִהְיֶה-לָּךְ, אֵיפָה שְׁלֵמָה וָצֶדֶק יִהְיֶה-לָּךְ--לְמַעַן, יַאֲרִיכוּ יָמֶיךָ, עַל הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ. 15 A perfect and just weight shalt thou have; a perfect and just measure shalt thou have; that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
טז  כִּי תוֹעֲבַת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, כָּל-עֹשֵׂה אֵלֶּה:  כֹּל, עֹשֵׂה עָוֶל.  {פ} 16 For all that do such things, even all that do unrighteously, are an abomination unto the LORD thy God. {P}

Here, G-D tells us that if one cheats in business and STEALS from his/her fellow man then they are an abomination, similar to a cross-dresser when it says (Devarim 22:5), "Male garb shall not be on a woman and a man shall not wear a woman's garments, for anyone who does so is an abomination." If they are righteous in business then they will merit lengthened days on the land, similar to honoring one's parents and sending away the mother bird. However, why do we need to have both the positive and the negative ideas stated here? Could we not just have the positive aspect like by sending away the mother bird, or just the negative like by cross-dressing? 

I think the answer is simple, but very important. The commandment of honoring ones parents is not an absolute type of commandment. There are no specifics here, it only says to honor ones parents. Therefore, one can honor their parents by doing everything for them, helping them when they ask, or sometimes helping and other times not. All are fulfilling the commandment, but there are varying degrees. Would you call someone who helps his or her parents 90% of the time not righteous? Would you say he or she is a despicable person? No, they are good. Even the person who helps out only 60% of the time is still pretty good, not the best, but a fine person. Therefore, the more you honor your parents the bigger reward you receive, but you are not considered evil if you do not help out ever second of every day. 

By sending away the mother bird a person is considered to be extra sensitive because, as the Rambam tells us, he or she cares even about the emotions of a bird. A person who shows so much care for even a bird will, most likely, show even more compassion to his or her fellow humans. However, someone who does not show such overwhelming compassion is not, by definition, evil. That person can still be a righteous individual, just like the person who listens to his or her parents 60% of the time can still be a good person.   

On the other hand a person who cross-dresses is considered not righteous, but a person who is not a cross-dresser is not, by definition, considered righteous. A person who cross-dresses denies the differences between men and women and this is an abomination to G-D. There are reasons why, that I will not go into, G-D made man and woman and to conflate them together makes a strong statement against G-D (and perhaps many other things that show the character of a person). 

All of these are only one sided because performing these commandments either show how a person is righteous, but not performing them does not show that person to be non-righteous, or transgressing these commandments shows a person to be wicked, but not transgressing does not show a person to be righteous. However, in the case of business, a person who is honest in business shows himself or herself to be righteous, whereas someone who is not honest, a cheater, in business shows himself or herself to be a wicked person. This is why I think the Torah tells us the reward and punishment for this commandment and not just the reward or punishment. Also, this is why the reward for honesty in business is so great and the punishment is so severe, because, as the Rambam tells us, the point of the laws are to make us righteous. If we show we are righteous and following the Torah, we receive the highest rewards and if we show we are cheaters and wicked we receive the worst of punishments.

Just to reiterate the idea found in the law of business dealings at the end of the Parsha: A person's character can be assessed by how they conduct themselves in business. Someone who is honest in business is CLEARLY a righteous person. However, someone who cheats in business, even a little, is wicked at heart and unrighteous. We must make sure that we are always in the honest and trustworthy area of this law or else we will be considered abominations to G-D. 

1 comment:

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