This week’s parasha discusses a prohibition common to business and speech: “When you sell an item to your friend, or you buy from your friend, do not exploit (overcharge or underpay) one another” (Behar 25:14). The Torah commands both the seller and the buyer to be straight with each other. The seller should not pretend that the price is more inflated than it really is. If he does so and the purchaser finds out, the sale in certain circumstances may be retracted. The same holds true for the buyer, if he finds a “great bargain” because the owner does not know it’s real worth, he should not play on the innocence of the seller, claiming that he must know its real value.
When running a business, one is commanded not to deceive one’s customers. Although he is not stealing money directly, as officially both sides agreed to the terms of sale, he nevertheless has tricked the other person into it. When this person finds out, he will not be forgiving for having been exploited. Our Torah does not want us to gain through false or crooked ways. (Even in the event of unintentionally overcharging someone, one is still required to reimburse them.) A person must “make ends meet” by using his naturally-given talents with truth and integrity. As no-one wants to be tricked concerning a purchase; one should never do this to anyone else.
Three verses later, the Torah states that not only must one not exploit someone else financially, but also, not be abusive to them with one’s comments. One may not say words which are hurtful or cause misery to one’s friend. For example, one may not remind a repentant person about his bad ways of the past. If one’s friend is looking for a certain product, do not mislead him by sending him to the wrong address. One may not go into a shop and ask the price of an object that one has no intention of buying (unless he informs the shopkeeper of this).
The Torah’s way is to live harmoniously with others, and not to abuse them financially or verbally. In fact, verbal abuse has greater ramifications than financial, and thus requires more care to avoid it, as people may become hurt even by the nuances of what we say.
In conclusion, let us not push ourselves forward at the expense of someone else. The way to build a mountain is not by digging a hole. The running of a business or any other endeavour must be done within the accepted norm. There is plenty of bounty available for G-d to shower upon a person without having to use wrong methods. When it comes to our finances and even to our speech, let us remember: yes, we need to gain, yes, we need to live, but let him also gain and live; that’s only fair. By adopting such an approach, we will be building our mountain without encroaching on our friend’s.