Why does a sidra about sacrifices have a section about business ethics? “If anyone sin and commit a trespass against the Lord and deal falsely with his neighbour in a matter of deposit, or pledge or of robbery, or have oppressed his neighbour…” (Lev. 5:20-26).
Note firstly that an ethical wrong against one’s neighbour is a sin against God. There is no separation between religion and business. Ethical business practice is part of religion.
A second point: sacrifices are still, metaphorically, essential to the religious life. Not just in terms of giving donations to religious institutions, but also in foregoing easy profits and advantages. Making money is in itself no problem, so long as it is kosher – bediente gelt – money earned in a kosher way.
Business ethics applies even to the attitudes of employer to employee or employee to employer. Neither may exploit the other or steal from them. Stealing is not limited to giving oneself dispensation to pocket something from the till, the stationery cupboard, or the tea room. Nor is it restricted to personal advantage from the firm’s data base or the client network.
Maimonides says, “The employer may not steal or withhold an employee’s wages. An employee may not steal in the way he does his work, or waste the day dishonestly by taking a little time here and a little time there” (Hilchot S’chirut 113:7). Maimonides adds that one must be able to say with the patriarch Jacob, “I worked with all my strength” (Gen. 31:6).
This also requires sacrifice – the sacrifice of unjust personal enrichment.