The Laws of Commerce and Trade
1. Great care must be taken not to deceive or cheat a colleague. Whoever cheats or deceives a colleague violates a Torah prohibition. This applies whether the seller deceives the purchaser or the purchaser deceives the seller, as [Leviticus 25:14] states: “When you sell something to a colleague or buy something from a colleague, do not wrong each other.”[Shabbos 31a] relates that this will be the first issue about which a person will be questioned [by the Heavenly tribunal] in his ultimate judgement. He will be asked: “Have you dealt and traded honestly?”
2. Just as one is forbidden to cheat a colleague with regard to a sale, so, too, there is a prohibition against cheating with regard to hired work, contracted labor, and exchange of currency.
3. A person who trades faithfully need not worry about the prohibition against cheating a colleague. What is meant by “trading faithfully”? A person who says: “ I have brought this article for this amount and I want to make this much as a profit.” Even if he was cheated when he purchased the article – though a person who was cheated has no right to cheat a colleague – nevertheless, the above mentioned practice is permitted. He clearly tells the purchaser not to consider the worth of the article, but the amount which he had paid for it.
4. A person who has merchandise to sell cannot make it appear more attractive [then it actually is], in order to deceive the purchaser. For example, it is prohibited to feed an animal bran-water in order for its body to swell and its hair to stand up straight, so that it will appear fat. Similarly, one may not repaint old utensils so that they will appear new.
5. Similarly, it is forbidden to mix some inferior produce with a large quantity of superior produce, in order for the entire amount to appear superior. Also, it is forbidden to mix inferior beverages with a superior blend. If the taste of the inferior blend is noticeable, it is permitted, since the purchaser will detect it.
6. A storekeeper is permitted to distribute roasted seeds and nuts to children to attract them to purchase [other things] from him. Similarly, one may sell certain items below the market price, so that customers will purchase from him. Other merchants cannot prevent him from doing so.
The Laws of Wronging a Colleague
1. Just as it is forbidden to wrong a colleague in trade or commerce, so too, it is forbidden to wrong him through speech, as [Leviticus 25:17] teaches: “A person should not cheat his colleague, and you shall fear G-d.” This refers to wronging someone with words.
Wronging someone with words is more serious than wronging someone financially, because the latter can be repaid, while the former cannot. Furthermore, financial loss affects merely one’s property, while this affects one’s person. A person who cries out to G-d over being wronged through speech will be answered immediately.
In particular, it is necessary to be careful that one does not wrong one’s wife in this manner or distress her by speech. Women have a sensitive nature and are prone to cry, even about minor things. G-d takes particular note of tears [as Berochos 32b teaches]: “The gate of tears is never locked.”
2. What is meant by wronging someone with words? One should not inquire about the price of an article from a colleague when one has no intention of buying it. If one seeks to purchase grain, one should not tell him, “go to so and so,” when he knows that the latter does not have any grain to sell.
To a Baal Teshuvah, one should not say: “Remember your previous deeds.” If a person was afflicted with suffering, Heaven forbid, one should not say anything to him which resembles the remark made to Job by his colleagues (Job 4:6-7): “Can you not rely on your fear of G-d”…Please, try to recall, did an innocent man ever perish?” (They addressed him in this fashion only because he had complained against G-d’s providence and His attributes.)
If a person asks with regard to an aspect of wisdom, one should not approach a person unfamiliar with the subject and ask him: “What is your opinion of the matter?” The same applies with regard to similar matters which cause emotional aggravation.
3. It is forbidden to call a person who has an uncomplimentary nickname by that name – even though he is already accustomed to being called by it and is no longer embarrassed – if one’s intent is to shame him. This is also considered as wronging someone with words.
4. It is forbidden to deceive other people. (This includes creating a false impression even though one does not cause the other person any financial loss.)
This prohibition applies to deceiving a non-Jew as well. Thus, it is forbidden to sell to a non-Jew meat from an animal which died naturally, if the non-Jew presumes that it was ritually slaughtered. Similarly, if the person sells a colleague a defective article, he must inform him about the defect. This applies even if the article is priced appropriately to its defective state. (See Chapter 182, Law 4.)
(There is no prohibition regarding deception when one gives a present [even though it appears more valuable than it actually is].)
5. A person should not invite a colleague to dinner when he knows that the colleague will not eat. Similarly, he should not offer him a present which he knows he will not accept. It is also forbidden to perform any action in which one’s statements do not express his true feelings – e.g., to make it appear that he honors a colleague when he does not feel that way. Rather one’s statements should always reflect one’s true feelings. One should speak truth and act with upright feelings and a pure heart.