Business Ethics, On One Foot

Image: Girl holding pitcher in front of lemonade stand (Hurst Photo) All Rights Reserved.

I’m teaching a class on Jewish Ethics of Money at Temple Sinai in Oakland this month and next. The next classes will meet Nov. 3 and 10.

This week we talked about the ancient rabbis’ notion of the Worst People on Earth: Anshei Sodom, the Men of Sodom. I covered that set of midrashim in a another post, A Modern Day Sodom?

Then we moved on to talking about business and consumption, and the Jewish ethics attendant to each. I got to share one of my favorite quotes:

Everyone who does business honestly, such that people feel good about them, is considered as though they have fulfilled the entire Torah.

– M’chilta D’Rabbi Yishmael 15.26

That is a lot of merit to attach to “doing business honestly, so that people feel good about them.” It may seem on first glance like a low bar: “if people feel like Levi is a businessperson who can be trusted, then it is as if they have fulfilled the whole Torah.”

Think about it, though: it’s a very high bar. Our hypothetical good businessperson did business in such a way that they have a reputation for utter honesty and trustworthiness. There are no unresolved disputes, no ongoing feuds, no dissatisfied customers.

It also suggests, as do other quotes from the rabbis, as if they regard the area of business to be particularly fraught with obstacles to living a good life. Someone who navigates that successfully, leaving nothing but good feelings behind them, has indeed accomplished something. They have paid their bills and their workers on time. They have sold a good product, or provided good services. When there is a complaint, they work it out with their client until everyone is satisfied.

Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Seems to me that’s what the rabbis are driving at with “such that people feel good about them.”

Do you do business with anyone like that – anyone who leaves you feeling like it’s a pleasure to go in their shop or their office, because you know you will be decently treated? Tell us about them in the Comments, please!

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

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