Parsha Ki Teytzey

Business Ethics


I have often heard people say that the Torah is so concerned with sacrifices, purity, obedience to rules and regulations, but does not mention business ethics. It might not use that specific expression but there are plenty of laws that govern how we deal commercially and financially with others.

Let me just focus on this week’s reading. The Torah forbids taking interest. In early societies, lending money was regarded as charity. There is no other term for giving charity. Tesedaka is used only in the Torah as doing the right thing. Lending money for interest has the down side of putting pressure on the borrower. The Torah has no problem with earning or amassing, gold or silver or land (up to a point). But often high interest charges mean a person might never be free of debt. Might become enslaved or dependent. The Torah wants people to think of consequences, intended and unintended. To consider others.

That is why if someone comes to borrow money and needs to give a pledge, if that pledge is essential, tools for work, clothing or blankets for warmth, one must return the pledge to allow the borrower to make use of essentials. A lender has only qualified rights. And paying workers on time is another obligation of the employer, of the businessman. So is paying one’s obligations.

The Torah repeats the phrase “You shall not have false weights or measures. Full and honest you should have, to be just, in order that you live a long life on this earth.” Honest weights and measures are metaphors for honesty in one’s business dealings. Another was of talking about business ethics.

In general, the Torah talks about long life if one keeps the commandments. Some rabbis take this to mean long life in the next world even though there is debate over this in the Talmud Kiddushin. But there are three specific cases where the Torah associates a long life on this earth.

The two mentioned here, sending away the mother bird and honest weights and measures. The other is honoring one’s parents as stated in the Ten Principles. To me this says that for human life to function effectively on earth, one needs to have stable families, the ability to trade and practice commerce fairly and with trust and finally to consider other creatures and the ensure a balance of nature.