Harry Rothenberg asks, “Are we honest in business?”

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The Taxi Driver – Parshat Ki Teitzei

 This week we’re reminded of the prohibition against using false weights and measures when buying or selling. It’s so severe that you can’t even own a false weight or measure because you might come to use it. And then in the next passage, after these laws, we’re told to remember what Amalek did to us when we were on our way, when we left Egypt, when they attacked us.

What’s the connection? One commentator explains the following. If somebody leaves an item of value out in front of you and then walks away, momentarily – a Rolex watch, or a Mike Trout rookie baseball card, and you see them turn around and you swipe it, you steal it – that’s a crime of passion. But if you use false weights and measures when buying or selling, that is premeditated. You planned that theft.

The difference is that in the first case, the crime of passion, you’re not denying G-d, you just momentarily gave in to your evil inclination. But in the second case, when you planned it, you are denying G-d’s existence. You’re denying that G-d decides how much income you’re going to make. And that’s a terrible thing. And so, as a result, the punishment is: you deny G-d’s existence through premeditated theft, you get attacked by the nation, Amalek, whose hallmark is lack of belief in G-d. A fitting punishment for the infraction.

A Rabbi with whom I’m very close told me the following story. He got into a cab once and he noticed that the meter was on, but it was blinking. A little weird. The cab driver then touched the meter, started driving, and immediately the meter jumped to the next higher number. So the Rabbi right away realized what was going on. The cab driver had started the meter early, counted until just before 15 seconds or so when it was going to jump to the next number, and then he paused the meter.  And then when the Rabbi got in, he started the meter again. So the Rabbi said, “listen, I know what you did. You started the meter early to make an extra, what, 30 or 50 cents? I’m good for that, it’s fine. But I just want to know, why are you stealing from your customers?” To which the cab driver replied, not in denial: “Look, what can I tell you? I’m poor. I have to support my children. Every penny counts.”

To which the Rabbi replied – and this is why they pay rabbis the big bucks, or at least we should. He said, “how do you know you’re stealing because you’re poor? Maybe you’re poor because you’re stealing.” The cab driver said “what?” The Rabbi said, “think about it. You think you have to steal because you’re poor. Maybe the reason you’re poor is that you’re a thief. And G-d doesn’t give more income to thieves.” Something for the cab driver to think about; something for us to think about.

The Sages say that when we get up to Heaven, we’re asked two questions, and one of them is, “were you honest in business?” Any of us who work for a living in any profession should ask ourselves that question every single day. And hopefully when we get upstairs at 120 years or more, we’ll be able to say, “Yes, I was honest in business.”

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