Shifting Our Focus

Throughout life, according to Judaism, one should always yearn for growth in order to become the best versions of ourselves. This includes working on our ethical and moral understanding of the world around us and harnessing the power of being a truly good person at heart so that we may enjoy the next world to its fullest.

In the hour when we are brought up to the heavenly court for judgment we are all asked the following four questions:

1. Did you conduct your life & business affairs with honestly? 

2. Did you set aside time regularly for the study of Torah or anything related to torah?

3. Did you ensure the continuity of the world by getting married and building a family?

4. Did you look forward to the world’s redemption also known as Mashiach?

Let’s try to focus on the first one the list today which concerns conducting business as well as life affairs honestly.

Many Jews associate being religious with only observing rituals. People often believe that if one keeps Shabbat, then that automatically makes a person “religious” and if one, for example, does not keep kosher then they are the opposite. From these kinds of assumptions amongst people, one could form the impression that in Judaism ethics are a fairly unimportant extracurricular activity.

In the hour we are brought to the heavenly court, however, the first of the four questions that is posed is, "Did you conduct your business affairs honestly?" In other words, were you a decent human being to other people?

How surprising it is for people to find out that the first question asked is not something like, “Did you believe in Hashem?” Or, “Did you observe all of the holidays?”

But rather, the first of the questions is concerning the topic of how one conducted his or her life and business affairs. Were you truly honest when dealing with others? From this we can see how important this concept truly is to Hashem.

Rabbi Yossi in Pirkei Avot offers a great guideline concerning any business situation: Let your friend’s money be as precious to you as your own.

The principle underlying this advice is the golden rule: Love your neighbor as yourself. According to the great Sage Hillel, this concept is the key to the whole Torah in one sentence.

Instructing people to observe the golden rule while trying to earn a living can sound unrealistic and even, at times, naïve. Maybe that is why people sometimes prefer to asses their level of religion on the basis of ritual observance and faith. By and large, it is easier to be punctilious about such matters as opposed to truly working on one’s middot towards his fellow man, especially when it comes to finances.

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Rabbi Shaul Cohen is currently the assistant Rabbi at Congregation Magen Abraham in Brooklyn, NY.