" Al Chet , For the sin which we have sinned before thee with our commercial dealings, B'masah umatan ". Our urge for money is all powerful and it is for this reason that there are more mitzvoth relating to this particular area - over 120 - than any other aspect of Torah. At every turn we are liable to let profit trump piety and thus we need the word of G-d to give us the strength to conduct ourselves in the most ethical of ways.
Alas, it appears that even the Divine word may not be "good enough". It is often difficult to see the link between ritual observance, acceptance of the Divine authorship of the Bible, and increased meticulousness in our monetary dealings. While we have witnessed much flourishing of almost all things Jewish, it often appears that money matters have for many escaped detailed emphasis. Somehow we have divided the world into secular and religious realms and business dealings are part of the former. The al chet of our commercial dealings does not refer to any particular sin - any number of these are mentioned individually - but rather the sin of neglect, a sin of omission not commission. Few, if any Jewish schools in North America have a course devoted to Jewish Business ethics. It is hard to think of any other area of Jewish law that will be of more practical benefit and necessity for living an observant Jewish life. Shabbat, kashrut and holidays, while forming the basis of our Jewish identity are learned primarily in the home, by actually living these experiences with our families. No such daily opportunity exists to observe and absorb proper behaviour in the business world.
In his book Sins in the Marketplace Dr. Meir Tamari, Founder of the Center of Business Ethics and Social Responsibility in Jerusalem shows how the al chets have as a, major theme our failings regarding monetary matters. We have sadly defined Judaism as a series of rituals and beliefs and have not placed enough emphasis of the grand ethical vision of Judaism, on its primary goal of creating a fully functioning society with its economy, social welfare system, military and all other state apparati testifying to our being a "holy nation" and a model for the world at large. Even the religious political parties in Israel have focused primarily on issues of personal status leaving so much of the core of Judaism unarticulated. Not only is this a distortion of the essence of Judaism but it has also caused many non observant Jews to view Torah as irrelevant to the building of a Jewish state in the modern world. And for this sin of "the desecration of G-d's name" we must say an additional al chet .
The Hebrew phrase used for our commercial dealings is Masah Umatan often translated as "give and take" referring to the nature of business dealings. The literal translation of masah means to lift up, the nasi being the leader of the Jewish people. Matan comes from the root of giving, matana being a gift. Our monetary dealings must be such that they elevate our religious personality. Working is not something we do to just to earn a living, important as that may be. Rather it gives us the opportunity to sanctify the name of G-d throughout the day.
We elevate ourselves by being giving to others. While we tend to think of business as a profit making venture for ourselves, the economic theory of capitalism teaches that it is by helping others meet their needs that we enrich ourselves. May the coming year be one in which our masah umatan brings much benefit to all.