Thank you so much for your teachings. It has really helped me understand how to connect with people, make the world a better place, and be rewarded with ‘certificates of appreciation’ in the process.
I’m a little conflicted right now, though, and so I’m reaching out to see if you can offer me some ancient Jewish wisdom to help me get through this situation:
I own a bakery; I specialize in sugary treats, and the reactions I get when people taste what I make sets my heart aglow. I love it when people enjoy my confections. I understand that these are ‘treats’ and that consuming these things consistently, like anything (including exercise) can be unhealthy – I really don’t know what people do with my wares once they leave my bakery, I just hope I am making the world a better place when the transaction is made.
The exception, though, is with one of my best friends’ husband. He just had weight-loss surgery (his second) and it doesn’t look like this second one will be successful either. He’s not listening to doctors, still sneaking food, etc. I pray it works out, but he will call me up and order some chocolate truffles ‘for his wife’ but I know that this isn’t the case. He may give her 1/4 of the order, and the rest are for him.
What do I do here? Is my obligation to my family/business and do I make the transaction and accept the certificate? Or, is my obligation to my genuine connection and concern for his health and the relationship with my friend?
Seeking wisdom, Rabbi, and Susan
Thank you kindly,
What a fascinating question! While in your case, the potentially harmful goods are your baked delicacies your concern could apply in so many other cases. What if you own a car dealership and a friend opts to buy a luxury car and meanwhile you know that he is already heavily in debt? Or you own a motel and a friend checks in with someone to whom she isn’t married? The possibilities are endless.
For the purpose of this Ask the Rabbi, we should stipulate that we are not approaching it from a legal angle. It is possible that refusing service could subject you to a lawsuit or cause other problems. We are only commenting on the ethical/moral issue at hand through the lens of ancient Jewish wisdom. We don’t mind telling you that your excellent question took a bit of research!
Ancient Jewish wisdom does not advocate unbridled capitalism with a cavalier attitude of “caveat emptor–let the buyer beware. Swindling, cheating, or even subtly misleading your customer are clearly forbidden as is using insider information to take advantage of someone else’s lack of knowledge. Furthermore, trading in items whose only purpose is harming others, for instance, destructive drugs, is not permissible. We coined and use the words ‘ethical capitalism’ to describe the Torah’s approach to business.
However, your question doesn’t fall into any of these categories. In your case, there are two principles that could apply. The first would kick in if you were the only source of baked goods in your area. In that case, our answer might be different. However, we assume that sugary confections are readily available and in our day and age they can be gotten almost instantaneously online as well.
With that being so, the second Hebrew principle that comes into play is, “ein sof l’davar,” or, in English, “there is no end to the matter.” As you can see from our examples, if a storekeeper is responsible for how his or her wares are used, we very quickly would be in a “nanny community.” We would be constantly evaluating who needs what and whether we think they should have it. We would sit in constant judgment of each other rather than serving one another. This would not only have a crippling effect on business but, more importantly, it would destroy relationships as we infantilize one another.
You are not responsible for your friend’s husband’s health, though you can pray that he has the strength to do the right thing. Your bakery sounds delightful and we’re gratified that our teachings are helpful.
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
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