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Rabbi, there’s a conflict in your teachings.

October 8th, 2015 Posted by Ask the Rabbi No Comment yet

Question:

I’ve noticed two major themes in your writing and speaking that, when taken together, create a dilemma. These are the themes of income being associated with the production of value for others, and the fact that the values of society are becoming less and less moral as civilization has deteriorated recently.
 
So this would mean that people who have the same values as the rest of the world will be more successful and make more income. How do we therefore live our lives conscious of the monetary implications of what we choose to provide for other people, while at the same time holding firmly to generally unpopular biblical principles?

∼ Isaiah

Answer:

Dear Isaiah,

We love this question and especially from someone with your name. The prophet Isaiah spoke the truth, yet God’s prophets were frequently rejected both by Israel’s enemies and by most in ancient Israel as well.

If we read you correctly, you are integrating our main principle with the increasingly degraded condition of society.  Taken to its extreme, we think you might be asking, what if, for instance, society wants degenerate entertainment and by delivering to society exactly what it desires, you would make money?

We believe that the overall question is whether what you deliver possesses good qualities mixed in with the problematic.  In fact we have trouble thinking of any product that cannot be misused or abused to the detriment of the customer.  We believe that even with all the negative feelings about it today in society, tobacco is not all bad. Yes, it can certainly cause health problems but for some it can also help other areas. Selling firearms can certainly mean someone will use one of your products for an evil purpose.  But others will use it for legitimate defense of their families and lives will be saved.  Here we’ve looked at extremes that society seems to have made up its mind on already.  But truthfully, almost everything has dimensions of both good and bad. There are exceptions. For example it is hard if not impossible to find compensating benefits to making and marketing pornography or hooking young people on cocaine or other psychotropic drugs.

Generally, however, whenever two correct ideas conflict, we need to prioritize them. This is something we do all the time, including in evaluating our work. We must devote time to earning money and we must devote time to our family. When there is a conflict, we need to decide, for that particular instance, which takes priority.

We have recently closed our store for seven working days over the period of four weeks, that fell on Jewish holy days. We regularly turn down money-making opportunities that fall on the Shabbat or Jewish holy days. In cases like this, since the answer is always that God’s instruction on how to behave on these special days takes precedence, we don’t even spend any time weighing up our decision.

When it comes to living in a society whose values are increasingly anti-God, as you say, that means that fewer people share values with us and that can negatively impact income. The decisions we have to make will fall into the, “No thought needed,” to “This is a tough call” range. An example of the first might be a doctor working for a hospital that demands she performs abortions and the second might be whether or not to use a superb vendor who donates from her income to Planned Parenthood. Each of us has some hard calls to make.

Fortunately, in America and in a global economy, most of us can find like-minded people as customers, employees and employers. Chick-fil-a and Whole Foods are among many companies whose owners and CEOs took controversial stands and found new customers by doing so.

We don’t have to go out of our way to be antagonistic. In fact, nurturing relationships with people who disagree with us can, down the road, lead to having an influence on them. It can at least confuse them when we are not the angry, hate-filled bigots they assume we are. However, in the final analysis, if it does come down to a clear case of following God or being popular with people, there isn’t really a choice, no matter what the economic or social consequences are.

Life is meant to challenge us,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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