By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
“Ve’eileh hamishpatim asher tosim lifneihem.” Rashi explains that just as the laws which appeared in the previous parsha were delivered to the Jewish people at Har Sinai, so too, the laws relating to financial matters were presented lifnaihem, before the Jewish people at Har Sinai.
The Chiddushei HaRim elaborates further. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that only the laws that defy human comprehension are Divine, while those that fall into the category of common sense -such as those governing financial interactions-were devised by man.
The laws demanding scrupulous honesty were given by the Creator to form the fabric of our daily life. Reduced to its core, the philosophy behind why we must lead honest, upright lives is simply that Hashem commanded us to do so, not because a healthy society depends on honest interpersonal dealings. This conviction must guide our observance of the laws pertaining to financial integrity.
If laws governing our behavior with our fellow man fluctuated according to an individual’s or society’s preferences, the entire moral and legal tapestry would unravel. As we have seen countless times in history, unscrupulous leaders justify their lawless behavior with one corrupt rationale after another, dragging society down with their regime. Dishonest people ensnare others in their traps and cause much financial loss, ruin and pain. Good people become tainted as they begin using elements of subterfuge to advance their ambitions and goals.
If the law is not Divine and immutable, it is open to being manipulated at will. As the posuk warns, “Ki hashochad ye’aveireini chachomim.” Bribery blinds. There is no greater temptation to cut corners with the law than the allure of quick financial gain. Jealousy of another’s financial success is one of the most powerful-and destructive-motivators for dishonesty. Were it left to man to act ethically according to his own perceptions of what is proper, there would be plenty of room for him to inject his own corrupt assumptions into his dealings with his fellow men.
When ethics and morality are viewed as holy as kashrus, kedushahand taharah, however, the urge to wheel and deal and to legitimize that behavior is curbed.
A Closed Book; Timeless, Unchanging
Torah is not open to human interpretation or change. As the repository of the Creator’s wisdom, it is essentially a closed, unfathomable book. It is timeless and unchanging. Stealing is stealing, in every age, in every corner of the world. Lying and engaging in subterfuge to gain an advantage, even over a dishonest person, is an aveirah and inexcusable, no matter how strong the rationale to engage in the activity.
Just as an ehrliche Yid understands that there is no way to make kosher an animal which isn’t properly shechted, he knows, too, that he may not benefit from money that isn’t honestly earned. Anehrliche Yid isn’t tempted by the seductions of a life of luxury. He is repulsed by improper gains. They have no appeal to him.
Man-made laws are subject to human limitations and to the spirits of the times of the times of the people who formulated the laws. Much the same as we look at photographs of people from five years ago and mock their choice of eyewear and can’t imagine why anyone would wear such glasses, so too, in but a few years, we will wonder why anyone wore dark, round, plastic frames. They will seem so strange. But today, they are in vogue, and style-conscious folk would rather bump into objects as they walk about than not wear them. In a few years, we will mock today’s styles.
Laws reflect the period in which they are written. Systems of jurisprudence subject to human intervention are constantly evolving with the times and are manipulated by changing perspectives. Only the laws of the Torah are eternal, for they were fashioned by an omniscient, omnipotent Creator. The laws were created for the betterment of man and with all his needs in mind. They represent the blueprint for a utopian society, necessary for the functioning of a perfect society and unaffected by whatever perspectives hold sway at any particular time.
Anything devised by man is subject to human bias and thus cannot achieve absolute truth or immortality. Empires rise and fall in a matter of centuries, as the corruption which creeps into the core eventually collapses the entire structure.
Perhaps this is the reason why the parsha opens with the laws ofeved ivri. At the time the Torah was given until modern times, a feudal system dominated most societies. People would enslave the weaker and less privileged among them, treating them brutally and inhumanely.
Long before compassion and humanity became universal values, in an era when “might made right,” the Torah revolutionized the world with its mandates of charity, kindness and justice. The laws forcing slave-owners to treat their slaves better than themselves were not bound by the temperament of the times and much more progressive than anything man could have conceived when they were delivered on Har Sinai. They remain so today.
Turning To Secular Courts
One of the ways a Jew demonstrates his belief in the Divine source of the Torah’s laws of jurisprudence is by refusing to turn to secular courts for adjudication of legal issues.
From the parsha’s opening pesukim, Chazal derive important guidelines for how Jews are supposed to resolve their disputes. One who uses secular courts instead of batei dinim commits achillul Hashem, for through his actions he demonstrates that he doesn’t truly believe that the Torah’s financial laws come from the Creator.
By patronizing secular courts, he puts on display his belief in society’s ideas of what is fair -ideas dictated by human reasoning which are flawed, arbitrary and tragically limited.
Truth Must Be Our Benchmark
The posuk states (23:7), “Midvar sheker tirchok – Distance yourselves from falsehood.” The truth must be our benchmark. Fidelity to the truth is what defines us. We are not to compromise the truth in order to protect our positions or prop up our public image. We must do what is correct al pi Torah, without makingcheshbonos.
Each generation draws its strength from its forbears who weremoser nefesh to transmit the Torah in its entirety to their descendants. While each generation faces its own individual trials and tribulations, the admonition of midvar sheker tirchok, along with every single law in the Torah, is eternally applicable.
There is no justification for lying or dishonesty in any facet of our lives. If we want to be good Jews, we will make no distinction between any of the laws of the Torah in terms of the time, effort and diligence we expend in fulfilling them.
The test of our emunah and bitachon is whether we follow the laws of mishpatim and Choshen Mishpat with the same care that we demonstrate with respect to the other mitzvos handed down at Sinai.
Were All Your Dealings Honest?
One of the questions a Jew is asked by the Bais Din Shel Maalah is whether his financial dealings were honest. Ehrlichkeit in finances is the defining trait of a yorei shomayim. We all know stories about people who forsook fame and fortune because of a breath of impropriety that might have tainted some of the activities required of them.
For people of this towering spiritual caliber, the sole authority and guide in any money-related endeavor is Hilchos Choshen Mishpat. No other considerations enter the picture.
Fear of failure, competition, and the vast amounts of money necessary to get by in our world lead people to abandon the laws of Sinai. It starts with small lies, with minor acts of deception, and from there it snowballs. Self-deception rules the day, as half-truths and white lies launch the downward spiral. Before long, the individual caught in this vicious cycle becomes an unscrupulous scoundrel. Yet, due to the power of rationalization, he still views himself as a pious person, worthy of honor and emulation.
By contrast, a person who knows that Choshen Mishpat is equally a component of shemiras hamitzvos as Orach Chaim and Yoreh Deah is someiach bechelko, because he knows that whatever he owns is rightfully his, and can therefore enjoy it. Envy and greed have no power over him, because his driving force is to give his Creator nachas by obeying the Torah’s mandates. He knowsHashem treasures him and values his sacrifices for truth.
One who utilizes chicanery and thievery to advance himself and his interests is denying the rules the Creator built into the universe by which man can progress in life. He is denying that one who leads his life according to the halachos of the Torah will lead a blessed and successful life. By choosing to go down an unscrupulous path he is testifying his denial that one who abides by the Torah will enjoy prosperity and blessing.
Such a person betrays a major deficiency in his spiritual outlook. His actions carry a denial of the fundamental belief that Hashem guides the world and mankind, and allots to each and every individual his respective needs, as we say on Yom Kippur, “Kevakoras ro’eh edro, maavir tzono tachas shivto, kein ta’avir vesispor vesimneh vesifkod nefesh kol chai vesachtoch kitzvah lechol briosecha…”
Honesty is not only the path to a guilt-free, successful and fulfilled life. It is a testament to our devotion to Torah and mitzvos and our emunah and bitachon. Being honest and forthright not only makes us better people and more capable of getting along with others socially and functioning in a civil society. It makes us better Jews.