From Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul

Standing by His Word

The way to honesty in business is through the emulation of God, and the imitation of God’s attribute of integrity.

Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz

In a used furniture business, unlike new, you cannot order stock from a catalogue. People call in, and you have to go out and make an offer. “You can’t sell what you don’t have,” my father would say. So making his calls was crucial for him.

When I was age thirteen, my father lost his store manager, a one-armed guy who could do more with his one arm than many will do with two. With his one arm, he used to hook a chair on a long pole, then arc it upwards in the air where he would slide it onto ceiling hooks until someone wanted to purchase it. With his manager gone, my father came to me. Until he found the right person, would I come in while he went out to answer the day’s calls?

The store has tens of thousands of items. “People like to bargain,” he told me, “so I don’t mark prices. You just have to know a range.”

He took me around. “A quarter-horse motor you can sell for four dollars. For a refrigerator, depending on the condition, you can sell for thirty-five dollars to sixty dollars. However, if it has a freezer all the way across, sell it for eighty dollars, in excellent condition, maybe one hundred dollars. If a gasket’s loose, it’s garbage. Otherwise, I don’t charge for scratches. Dishes come in with a houseful of furniture, and I don’t even figure them in when I give a price. You can sell them for a nickel to a quarter. Something really nice.”

Every day after school, I would pedal down to the store. Soon after, I was writing up a sales slip for an attractive plate when my father walked in. I had asked a dollar and the guy did not hesitate. I was very pleased. My father glanced down at what I was doing, turned to the customer and said, “You sure got a bargain today. My employee gave you the price and that’s the price.”

Afterward, I asked my father, “What was that all about?”

It turned out it was an antique plate, worth a few hundred dollars. I was devastated. Here I was trying to help my father in the business and instead I was losing money for him.

He said, “I could’ve stopped the sale if I’d wanted to. You were just writing up the slip and hadn’t yet taken the money. Besides, by civil law, you’re under age. But, a Jew stands by his word and the word of his agent.”

Cost my father a small amount of money to teach me a lifelong lesson in integrity.

The event has a sequel. Years later, my wife and I needed to wire a large sum of money to our daughter in Israel. A bank teller advised my wife Loretta that a VISA check carried no service charge or interest unless late. When the bank statement showed considerable charges, I went in and tried to explain to the branch manager that we acted on their advice to avoid charges. To everything I said, all she could reply was, “We’re sorry, but the teller made a mistake.”

I then told her the story of my father standing behind the word of his employees. I finished by saying, “This was even when it didn’t cause a loss to the customer, and when my father caught the error before the transaction. How much the more so afterward! I expect my bank to behave with at least as much integrity as my father.”

The branch manager had not said a word during all of this, and her silence continued as I sat back in my chair. I had no idea of how she was going to react.

When she began to speak, her voice had softened, and she said in a dignified manner: “The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce will not be less than your father.”

Then she promised that all the charges made to my account for that VISA check would be reversed.

As I thanked her and stood to leave, I was grateful that even in today’s impersonal business world, a tale of integrity still had power to touch the heart and sway the conscience.

Rabbi Roy D. Tanenbaum

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