Mordechai, a house painter in Jerusalem (“Mordechai’s” name and profession have been changed to protect his identity), was self-employed for over 20 years. For the most part, business had been good. Lately, however, he was finding it difficult to make an adequate living.
His daughter suggested that he join an online community group. Now he would be able to advertise his services to a wide audience without having to invest money. After giving it some thought, he composed his ad and sent it into cyberspace.
The next day, he checked his ad on the Internet. He was disheartened to see, above his ad, another ad offering the same service with a special deal that he felt he could not match.
Without further thought, Mordechai dialed his competitor’s number. He pretended to be interested in hiring the man to paint several rooms in his house. He began asking detailed questions, trying to determine how the other man could offer such a low price. After a lengthy conversation, Mordechai thanked the man for his time and said he would think about it.
A few minutes later, Mordechai’s phone rang. It was the man with whom he had just spoken.
“You were asking me a lot of questions, but provided no details about yourself. I think you misrepresented yourself and you are really a painter looking for information to better compete with me.”
Mordechai felt very uncomfortable and did not know how to handle the situation. He denied the charge and said he had been merely getting price quotes as a potential customer. For the rest of the day, Mordechai fought feelings of guilt. He told himself he had done nothing wrong. There was no law that prohibited calling someone for information.
That evening, he went to his Torah learning group. A group of men met once a week to learn a central theme. This week, the topic was honesty in business dealings. Mordechai hung his head in shame and waited for the shiur to end. He then raced home and called his competitor again.
Mordechai admitted the truth, and told the man how his desperation over his current business slump had temporarily blinded him as to the ethical wrong he had done. The man responded that he had indeed felt very uncomfortable about the ruse, but thanked Mordechai for calling to apologize. He further told Mordechai that it takes a great man to admit a wrong.
The man offered Mordechai constructive advice, and even offered to send some business his way – which he subsequently did.
Mordechai did not feel the story was finished. He called his children together and told them what had happened. He felt they could learn several lessons from his experience. He explained how he had done something wrong by misrepresenting himself. He told them how he had hurt the other person, even though no monetary loss was involved. He spoke of the importance of accepting an apology with good grace. He further explained that when someone wrongs you, it is important to try to understand the person’s underlying situation.
Finally, he felt at peace that he had addressed the ramifications of his recent experience.
Mordechai’s challenge was a seemingly mundane one. We face similar situations every day, and don’t give them much thought. However, ultimately, how we deal with these encounters form the significant details of the great book of our lives – a book that we are continually writing during our sojourn in this world.