THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN
Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Doing Business With Israelis
This week I respond to a critical issue which is on everybody's mind. Especially if your name is Achmed.
Yankel P. writes:
"Dear Rabbi Pinky,
"One of the Ten Commandments in not to steal. However, in Israel it seems to be required to cheat your fellow Jew in every business transaction it is possible to conceive of. If the person to be cheated happens to be an American, not only is the requirement to cheat him, but to take immense pleasure in it and brag to all your friends how you tricked the American frier [ed: "sucker"]. My question is: Has the commandment not to steal been voided just in Israel, or all over the world?"
Well Yankele, my beloved Talmid, BOY do you have issues. But before I address your question, I did want to take a moment to apologize. You initially sent me your question several weeks ago, and then resent it this week when I did not post a response. Please understand: I get thousands of letters every week from confused Talmidim such as yourself, lost and troubled souls, looking for direction, and, usually, a handout. I simply cannot respond to all shailahs, what, with the football season winding down and the NBA season in full swing... err, I mean with all of my deep Toirah commitments that keep me busy from morning until night.
Your insightful question really touches on several issues, which I will address one at a time. Please allow me to restate and interpret your words:
- Why do Israelis have the moral scruples of a chimpanzee with an erection (chass v'sholom)?
- Why are they proud of their character flaws?
- Should I as a Jew see Israeli behavior as somewhat "normative," reflecting the Reboinoisheloilum's desire to evolve human interactions to the highest Madreigah, Or shall I set aside my naive view of Israelis as the culmination of human history, and see them as the spineless Minuvals they really are?
Clearly, modern Israeli actions are analogous to the behaviour of Klal Yisroel in biblical times. After all, Yankif Avinu stole the birthright of Eisav through blatant exploitation and the deception of Yitzchak, their father. The shvatim (twelve tribes) kidnapped their brother Yoiseph Hatzadik and collaborated in a plot to cover up their actions. According to a Medrish in Beraishis Rabbah, they also used to steal sugar packets in restaurants. Dovid Hamelech stole Bassheva, the wife of Uriah, and connived to have Uriah killed on the battlefield to cover up his misdeeds (principally, impregnating Bassheva. Didn't Dovid Hamelech, the brilliant soldier and statesman, ever hear of "protection," if you know what I mean?).
So we have a national heritage of thievery. Sure, on the other side of the equation we have a Moishe Rabbeinu, who felt guilty buying groceries that were on sale. But should we emulate him? If he was such a good role model, why wasn't he allowed into Eretz Yisroel? Obviously, there was a reason (because Aimishteh knows, He would NEVER do anything purely random, such as have my goyyishe-kup neighbor win the lottery, while I have to continue to serve Slurpees at 7-11 during the overnight shift in order to pay my kids' yeshiva tuition.)
So Israelis have this heritage, which they cultivate, in an ever focused effort to exceed even our forefathers in their criminality. In their business dealings they take what does not belong to them. Then they negotiate, supposedly in good faith, and, ultimately, renege on their agreements. And all the while they roll out the carpet of self pity: "We are a poor country... We have very few natural resources... We are surrounded by hostile neighbors... We were persecuted for 2000 years." No wonder the Arabs hate the Israelis. You hate them. I hate them. We should all hate them. After all, 500 million Arabs can't be wrong!
Indeed, the Israeli penchant for dishonesty is also grounded in other layers of Jewish history. A Gemarra in Babba Kamma tells us of the three instances in which one is allowed to steal:
-- For Pikuach Nefesh -- the preservation of human life,
-- For Shalom Bayis -- the sanctity of the household and maintaining good relations with one's spouse; and
-- To lower your tax burden.
In fact, there is a Braisah in Masechess Airuvin that tells us that Rabbi Akiva was once arrested for shoplifting, and Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah was a kleptomaniac.
Interestingly enough, the key motivation for Israeli thievery is not what one would expect -- to profit at the expense of another. No, their instincts are far more base than that. In your own words, Yankele, "If the person to be cheated happens to be an American, not only is the requirement to cheat him, but to take immense pleasure in it and brag to all your friends how you tricked the American frier." What you describe does not sound like a habitual thief, who creeps stealthily though the night. Rather, it sounds like a teenage boy, who was just mezaneh for the first time, Rachmana Letzlan, and now has the share his news with all of his comrades.
I am reminded of a maiseh shehoya. Reb Chaim Vital, one of the noted students of the ARI ZAHL, was once in Salonika to speak at a UJA breakfast. After a long lecture on the topic of the relationship between the Shchinah, Klal Yisroel, the Sefira of Yesoid, and Hakkadoshboruchhu's collection of vintage cars, Reb Chaim went to the event organizer to collect his honorarium. But he was told, "Reb Chaim, we view your honorarium as YOUR contribution to our organization." Reb Chaim walked away with a smile on his face. But after the event was over and everyone had left, Reb Chaim jumped the event organizer on his way out of the building, beat him up and stole all the proceeds.
That night, an angry Rebboinoisheloilum came to Reb Chaim in a dream. "Don't be angry, Aimishteh," Reb Chaim said, "I'll give you your cut."
"It's not that,"Hakkadoshboruchhu replied, "it's that you forgot to also steal his wallet."
In Birchas Hamazon, the prayer after meals, many people add a line which is a prayer for the State of Israel, "Raishis Smichas Geulusainu," which roughly means "the dawn of our redemption." A similar line exists in the prayer for the State, recited in Reform, Conservative, and other fringe synagogues, such as Modern Orthodox. What motivates our support for Israel? Is is guilt? Is it some sense of loyalty? Is it a mutual identity? Is it the knowledge that Israel is the only country in the world where the local hot shiksas are Jewish?
Whichever it is (I personally believe it is the latter), we fool ourselves when we project our Messianic hopes and dreams not only on the historical advent of the modern State of Israel, but also on the character of its inhabitants. Make no mistake: Israelis are a bunch of Minuvals who smoke like chimneys, spit the shells of sunflower seeds on the public bus, wear sandals to weddings, and don't even know how to make a tie. When we lend them our trust, and then get disappointed when they steal, lie and cheat, then we get what we deserve. But we learn for the future...
So I am personally guided by an important rule of thumb: For Toirah and Jewish Sovereignty -- Israelis. For business -- Saudis, Qataris, and Egyptians, Germans, British, Belgians, Americans, Mexicans, Canadians, Apache, Tutsi, Eskimos, and Martians. But never an Israeli.
Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.
Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess