by Rabbi Moishe Dovid Lebovits and Akiva Lane
Reviewed by Rabbi BZ Karman
“It’s important for people to know that there will be no blessing and no success when, through dishonesty or guile, they get an extra dollar. A person may feel some warm glow of satisfaction in having gotten that extra dollar through dishonesty, but it’s not going to bring any good.”
This refrain, the need to deal with people in an honest manner, was one the central themes of many lectures and discussions delivered by Rav Chaim Yisroel Belsky zt”l, one of the leading poskim and roshei yeshiva of our generation. Whether lecturing to his beloved talmidim or presiding over a din Torah, he decried dishonesty in financial and personal matters, and insisted that everyone deal with integrity.
Rabbi Moishe Dovid Lebovits merited to be a close talmid for nearly a decade, where he learned from Rav Belsky not only how to arrive at a psak halachah, but indeed how to live with it. Through this relationship, Rabbi Lebovits was able to gain insight into the mindset of this towering figure, and set in writing his halachic as well as hashkafic conclusions. With the release of Living with Honesty, he shares with us over four-hundred pages with the many shailos that he and others discussed with Rav Belsky, as we gain an understanding and appreciation of the many applications of these principles.
As the title suggests, the sefer is not just a book of do’s and don’ts; rather, it endeavors to bring to light that honest dealings are the backbone of the Torah and the lives of our nation, and it must be incorporated into every aspect of our existence and every fiber of our being. Living with Honesty reveals how we must examine each situation with a fine-tooth comb, and put aside personal considerations while weighing how the Torah wishes us to behave in each circumstance.
The first section of the sefer contains a set shmuezen delivered by Rav Belsky on the topic of bitachon and parnassah. In one shmuez which he delivered during this time of year, he entreats his listeners to understand that the key to being granted success and wealth by Hashem is through bitachon in His ability to provide each person with his needs. The gemara in Beitza (16a) tells us, “A person’s sustenance is allotted to him from Rosh Hashanah to Rosh Hashanah.” According to the version brought in Tosafos, a person’s sustenance is allotted to him from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur. This implies that Hashem initially allocates a person’s sustenance for the period of the Aseres Yemei teshuva, during which it is a window of time in which his annual parnassah is decided. When a person realizes that all that he has emanates from above, he is inclined to deal honestly with people, and can turn to the Almighty and earnestly ask Him to provide his needs.
[The story is told of the Chofetz Chaim speaking before neila in his yeshiva in Radin, where he pointed out that we pray “lmaan nechdal mei’oshek yadeinu—so that we be cease from the exploitation of our hands”. The Chafetz Chaim asserted that in order to receive a beneficial judgement, one must eradicate any scintilla of dishonest dealings, and implored the bnei hayeshivah to accept upon themselves at that time to return any funds or objects that were not rightfully their’s, and to dedicate themselves to rectifying such behaviors in the future. BZK]
Another thought stressed is what the gemara in Nida (70a) states, “What shall a man do to become wealthy? Deal honestly in business, and seek mercy from the One to Whom all wealth belongs.” These two conditions are dependent upon each other, and fulfilling one without the other will not suffice. The dual edged strategy addresses the two trials man faces in his quest for parnassah: lack of faith, and misplaced faith. Dealing dishonestly shows a misplaced faith, while neglecting tefillah shows the lack thereof.
Section two contains over two hundred pages with nearly one hundred shailos asked of Rav Belsky by Akiva Lane, which were edited and arranged for this volume. In it, a talmid poses some of the most common queries that people come across daily, both in their business and in their private lives.
The section begins with the familiar issue of using the company machinery for personal benefit, e.g. making a copy of a paper or document, or using the business phone. In his own inimitable manner, Rav Belsky dissect the shailah utilizing his broad knowledge of halachah as well as his understanding of businesses and bosses. The considerations include balancing the cost to the company and loss of worktime, compared to the desire of the company to accommodate the employees to keep them satisfied, which is permissible if this is the minhag hamakom is to allow for this. After discussing the various details, Rav Belsky suggests that one should approach his supervisor (but not the CEO) to ascertain the company policy, and then reduce his own allowance by a significant percentage in order to prevent his own ‘sense of justice’ to cloud his judgement. This approach is a classic lesson in how one must approach each situation.
Typical work related shailos include using sick days properly, doing personal work during work or during a lunch break, and more up to date issues such as using email or the internet for non-work-related matters. The deciding factors in many cases involve removing any personal negios, making the judgement in a manner which conforms with the Shulchan Aruch, and avoiding any possible chillul Hashem along the way.
A typical shailah that people come across every day is the question of copying songs and the like from a CD or from other media. Rav Belsky follows the ruling of Rav Moshe Feinstein that copying anything which another person sells for money is prohibited, since by doing so you are taking away some of his sales.
“This is one of the areas where people say, ‘Everyone does it, and it really should be muttar.’ … Everything becomes “public domain.” … People just download tapes and copy them, and they’ll wipe the owner out. But even if everyone does it, it’s wrong. … Sometimes people object to this argument and say, “Well, in that case, I’m probably not even allowed to copy down a piece of Torah that I heard.” But that’s not true. The Shach says, “There’s no stealing when it comes to Torah” — that is, if you copy it down for yourself … One might say, ‘Oh, I would never have bought that anyway.’ But in fact, you shouldn’t say that. You do like it…and you would have bought it.”
Yet an exception is made for the purchaser to produce a backup copy in case his original one is lost or destroyed. The restraints of the seller are limited to not allowing two users to benefit from one purchase, thereby forfeiting the additional sale. In instances where there would not be an additional sale, the seller understands the need for a backup copy, and allows for it. Another heter involves making a ‘convenience’ copy, where a person would not purchase another copy, but just wants the ease of not having to transfer it each time he wishes to use it in a different place. One can discern the comprehensiveness of these answers, as they invoke knowledge of halachah, legal issues, human nature, as well as the niggling voice of the as well as the niggling voice of the yetzer hara as it tries to entrap the person by conjuring up reasons to skirt proper behavior. In summing up the issue, Rav Belsky compares it to the rule of thumb used in kashrus: “When in doubt, do without!”
These samplings as well as the many other practical shailos are written in the words or Rav Belsky, and those familiar with his style can imagine him discussing these vital issues with his talmid as he guides him to keep his conduct honest and in line with halachah. Throughout this section, Rabbi Lebovits provides copious footnotes which show the sources for these rulings, as well as pointing out where others differ in their conclusions. In addition, it is duly noted where Rav Belsky himself has elaborated on these points in his Shulchan haLevi or elsewhere.
Section three includes many issues which were brought up during Rav Belsky’s shiurim on Choshen Mishpat. His expertise in these topics is well known, as well as his oft repeated advice that “if a Choshen mishpat shailah is involved, one should ‘put on his sneakers and run away from it’.” Yet in the course of teaching Choshen Mishpat to his talmidim, he tackled some common shailos, and his rulings as well as the reasoning behind them is clearly recorded.
The first subsection deals with scenarios where children and their property is involved. In many cases, the parent’s negligence in marking the item is a factor in declaring it aveidah mi’daas, thereby relieving the finder from the obligation of hashavas aveidah. Other topics discussed include neighbor and landlord/tenant relations, shopping and business issues, auto and airline regulations, and a host of other matters we face on a daily basis.
The final section is a compendium of lengthy articles written by Rabbi Lebovits titled Honesty in a Day’s Work, Geneivas Da’as, Borrowing an Item Without Permission, and Hashkafos on Honesty.
Rabbi Moishe Dovid Lebovits is presently acting as Rabbinic Administrator for KOF-K Kosher Supervision, a kashrus certification agency. This newest sefer, now available in Judaic book store in time for the chagim, joins his previous published works which include Halachically Speaking volumes 1-6, with volume 7 already being prepared for print. In addition, for the past thirteen years, he has distributed a monthly email gratis to over 10,000 subscribers in twenty countries (www.thehalacha.com) in which discusses timely and practical halachic topics.