In my book “Pathfinding,” my father tells this story: “A very wealthy man in town approached a poor carpenter who had been struggling all his life. He says, ‘I’m going away for a year and I want you to build me a house. I am going to give you all the money you need to do it right. I want the best of everything that you can get to build the house.’
“As the carpenter began building the house, he says to himself, ‘The owner isn’t going to know the difference. Why should I use all this expensive stuff when I can put in cheap imitations and pocket the difference.’
“So he builds the house as cheaply as he can. The rich man comes back and the carpenter gives him the house key. The rich man says to the carpenter, ‘No, here. The key is for you. I wanted to build the house for you, so I am giving you the house as a present.’”
After he told the story, my father said, “The moral of the story is to be careful, don’t cheat others because you may be cheating yourself.”
The wealthy man had been performing a hidden act of kindness for the carpenter all along. The carpenter took advantage of the wealthy man – but his plan backfired. In deciding to cheat the wealthy man, the carpenter diminished a generous gift that would have greatly improved his financial situation.
David Weitzner reinforces this story in his outstanding article at Chabad.org, “Radically Jewish Business Ethics.” He states, “Business ethics in classic Judaism is not about charity and altruism (which are absolutely moral goods in themselves) – they are about real business activities and the holiness and moral goodness found in those particular acts. The Chassidic masters taught that holiness can be found anywhere, so why should we be surprised to find that engaging in the seemingly mundane activities of business is an authentic path to righteousness?”
In short, it’s the good that we do every day that counts. It may seem repetitive and boring at times, but what we do emanates in the world and has a collective positive effect.
Weitzner continues, “An authentically Jewish approach to business ethics believes that businesses can do well while being good. Be mindful of your strategy, and be mindful of the greater narrative that you will one day have to relay. Are you creating more opportunities for business, opening doors for more people to join the transactions? Are you playing your role as authentically as possible, whether you are a buyer or a seller, a lender or a borrower? The moral good that comes from business activities done well is as real and meaningful as the moral good that may come from anywhere else. That is business b’emunah [faith].”
If we conduct our everyday business in good faith, we create transformation in both our business and personal lives, and the lives of those around us.
PATRICIA RASKIN, president of Raskin Resources Productions Inc., is an award-winning radio producer and Rhode Island business owner. She is the host of “The Patricia Raskin” show, a radio and podcast coach, and a board member of Temple Emanu-El, in Providence.