By: Rabbi Ari Enkin
Lying is never permitted in the course of any type of transactions. Even passive lying or omitting the entire truth from a situation where the whole truth is essential in order to make a responsible business decision is also forbidden. This is known as “Geneivat Da’at” – giving mistaken impressions and allowing for false assumptions. Frequently cited examples of this are inviting someone over for a meal knowing in advance that they will refuse and misleading potential customers into thinking that the quality of an item is more superior than it really is. Lying on Shabbat is considered to be exceptionally grave.
So too, it is forbidden to mislead someone into thinking that they are getting a special deal when they really aren’t. The Talmud tells the story of Rabbi Safra who was in the middle of praying when a person entered his store and wished to purchase a certain item. The man offered Rabbi Safra the precise amount of money for the item, but as Rabbi Safra was in the midst of praying, he didn’t answer. The customer, thinking he was being ignored due to the price he had offered, continued to raise the amount of money he was willing to pay in order to purchase the item. Eventually, when Rabbi Safra had finished his prayer he told the buyer that he would sell the item for the price he had first offered as in his heart really had accepted that first, lower offer.
Although none of us are likely to reach the spiritual heights of Rabbi Safra, make no mistake; exaggerating, misleading, tricking, deceiving and all other terms related to giving another person the wrong impression are terrible qualities and are forbidden. Telling the boss that you are late for work due to a non-existing traffic jam falls perfectly under this category. Admit that you were late and that you’ll try harder next time!
Honesty is considered to be one of the greatest traits that a person can acquire for himself. So serious is lying or otherwise not keeping one’s word that it is one of the few things that God Himself extracts punishment for. Even those who other may otherwise be lacking in spiritual merits are assured a place in the World-to-Come if they were honest in all their dealings in this world.
(See part I here: link)