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  Chapter 4 from
The Ethical Imperative
Torah perspectives on ethics and values

By The Jewish Observer  Rabbi Nisson Wolpin 



Making It in the Workplace, and Creating Kiddush Hashem In The Process

True kiddush Shem Shamayim – sanctifying the Heavenly Name – is achieved when an individual is alone within the four walls of his room; faced with the opportunity to violate a Torah command, he refrains from doing so because he realizes that his every action is scrutinized by G-d. When others are also aware of his respect for G-d’s wishes, the kiddush Hashem grows; the wider the awareness, the greater the kiddush Hashem. But the starting place is in the privacy of the heart of that single Jew.

Widespread kiddush Hashem will prompt observers to comment: “How wonderful are the deeds of So-and-so. How fortunate are his parents for having taught him Torah!” (See Yoma 86a.)

The Orthodox Jew in the marketplace faces frequent challenges to his fidelity to Torah values and mitzvah observance. At the same time, he may be struggling to make his mark in his particular field of endeavor, which may appear to be threatened as a result of his open adherence to Torah guidelines. In the article that follows, Yosi Heber, an executive at Dannon/Lea & Perrins, describes his effort to succeed in his corner of the corporate world, while remaining faithful to Torah, and hoping to generate a kiddush Hashem at the same time.

* * *

I’ll never forget the first week of my “career.” Here I was, a newly-minted Wharton MBA, ready to plunge into the corporate world and make my mark. At the end of my first week at General Foods, I called my mother and told her how worried I was about my future prospects. There was a “class” of six of us who started at the same time in the Desserts Division. Spence and Carol were best friends from Harvard. Matt was one of the boys who played golf with the big boss on Saturdays. Mary really looked the part of junior executive. And then there was me, Yosi. I overheard one of the secretaries ask, “What’s a Yosi?” One of my new roles was to create new Jello recipes. I couldn’t even eat the Jello! “I’ll never make it,” I told my mother. I couldn’t possibly be one of them or fit in with them. How would I survive in this “jungle”?

After a year on the job, I came to the following conclusion: If an employee is a non-Jew, he or she can be perceived in the eyes of an employer in one of three ways: liked by people, disliked by people, or middle of the road (“one of the boys”).

If a person is a frum Jew, however, there are only two possibilities: Either you will be respected because you are a frum Jew (and you create a kiddush Hashem), or you’ll be disliked because you are a frum Jew (and that can lead to chillul Hashem). You cannot and will not ever be accepted as “one of the boys.” There is simply no middle ground for you in a corporate environment.

Therefore, when faced with the prospects of working in this type of setting, you would want to be sure to land on the right side. In fact, the possibility of creating a chillul Hashem cannot be taken lightly. As the Gemara says: “If a person creates a chillul Hashem, even doing teshuvah on Yom Kippur does not achieve atonement for him” (Yoma 86a). The question is -- how can one insure that he or she will create a positive impression, be properly respected, and make a kiddush Hashem in such a difficult environment? One must work hard at it. I have consulted with people who are in similar situations, and we have come up with six rules that have been found to be helpful in achieving success.

  • Six Rules of Thumb

Bend over backwards to be nice to people. Did you ever notice that when something goes wrong, people are always “Johnny on the spot” to complain and blame? Be the one to speak up when things go right! Offer compliments to people who deserve them. Send greeting cards on appropriate occasions and verbally express thanks to the people who have been of help to you. And if you move up the corporate ladder and become other people’s boss, aim at being an “easygoing” boss. The bottom line is, if you treat people well, they’ll both respect you and like you as a person.

Do outstanding quality work. Don’t just do your job, do it with a high degree of excellence. Know your field inside out, and be creative with new ideas. Become recognized as the resident expert on chosen subjects. Offer help and give guidance to anyone who needs it, at any level. By giving the job your absolute best, you’ll be highly valued for your contributions to the organization.

Be consistent in your religious conduct. Never waffle. They’ll respect you for it. If they perceive that you are only religious when it’s convenient for you (e.g., leaving early on Fridays), then you’re in trouble.

David, a successful systems analyst in a large firm, knew that he was on the right track when a peer said to him, “If only I were as consistent with my diet as you are with your religion, I would’ve lost 30 pounds by now.”

Be frum, but show them that you are a “normal” person. Begin by being “professionally” friendly. Demonstrate that you have a sense of humor, talk about politics, and ask your co-workers about their families. They’ll appreciate your worldliness and your interest in them personally. This type of professional friendliness can be more powerful than conforming to the “social” friendliness stereotype that people think one needs to succeed (e.g., having drinks together after work).

Although it can be a bit tricky, one should actively look for ways to demonstrate “normality” to them. Use common sense. While there are a number of halachic issues that you cannot compromise on, there are other things that can be done well within the boundaries of halachah.

Josh, a finance director at a well-known New York bank, remembers having been “required” to go to the company’s annual picnic and baseball game. He felt uncomfortable playing in the field, so he grabbed the microphone and announced the proceedings play by play, and enthusiastically cheered the hits and catches. To his colleagues, it demonstrated that he was “normal.

Be someone whom people enjoy being around. Have a positive attitude and project yourself as a happy person. As the Gemara (Succah 49) says: “If a person projects happiness and chein, it becomes clear to people that he is a yerei Shamayim.”

Strengthen your ruchnius level at home. This, in truth, is the core of all kiddush Hashem. Being exposed to the added nisyonos (temptations) of the outside world requires that extra attention be paid to your frumkeit level when you’re not at work. Make certain that you have a Rav to whom you can present she’eilos and can consult for advice, and always maintain a k’vius (set time) to study Torah every day without fail. Daf Yomi is an excellent vehicle for this because even if you travel on business, the daily daf is exactly the same whether you’re in Los Angeles, London or Lawrence.

It may seem improbable, but I have met many prominent people in the corporate world over the years, who say that by merely following these types of guidelines, they have never really had a negative experience. Even in seemingly difficult situations (e.g., late Friday meetings, business trips abroad, etc.), many comment that they have always felt that they were respected for their religious beliefs, and not thought of as “odd” because they were so different from everyone else in their respective companies.

  • The Importance of Being an Ambassador

One might ask, why is it so important to bear in mind that one is representing the Jewish people, so to speak, in the marketplace -- the kiddush Hashem factor, if you will? Isn’t it sufficient to just do your job positively, deliver faithfully, and hope for the best? The answer is simple. First of all, as one is always a Jew -- 24 hours a day -- so too, is one always viewed as a Jew. Kiddush Hashem and the opposite are always on the agenda.

In addition, it is worthwhile to bear in mind the bigger picture. One can never know which person one works with today will be in a position of major influence for Klal Yisrael in 20 years. The lawyer next door may someday be sitting on the Supreme Court. If he’s deciding a case important to the Jewish community, and you were his “Jewish” friend, the impression one leaves today could have a profound impact on vast numbers of people.

An excellent example of this is President Harry Truman’s Jewish connection. While a young man, Truman’s business partner and closest friend happened to be Eddie Jacobson -- a Jew. Most likely, back in Independence, Missouri, young Harry did not meet many Jews. But when it came time for the U.N. to vote on the partitioning of Palestine when Israel had declared its independence in 1948, Jacobson’s influence as President Truman’s “Jewish” friend was pivotal to Truman’s pro-Israel policy (against the wishes of many of his advisors in the State Department). Always tell yourself, “If I’m one of the only Jews they ever really get to know, I’d better be sure that they have a positive impression of us all.”

  • Taking the Show Home

Until now, we’ve discussed the subject of what I would call “external” kiddush Hashem -- a passive sort of projection of kiddush Hashem, as it relates to people we work with outside of the Jewish community. Of even greater importance is an additional aspect that I would call “internal” kiddush Hashem, the positive impact one should make on others within the Jewish community.

To begin with, each person has certain talents, and everyone has an obligation to give of some of those talents back to his own community. One can easily find ways to channel his or her strengths toward “internal” growth and improvement, creating a kiddush Hashem in the process. For example, if you are a computer programmer, volunteer a few hours a month to the local yeshivah to computerize the yeshivah’s financial and academic records, or to teach computer skills to the students. If you’re a lawyer, offer to help the shul draft its real-estate contract. If you’re a yeshivah rebbe, counsel those considering a career in chinuch. These opportunities, however, must be actively sought out. Often, they do not just come to you by themselves.

At times, one can use one’s strengths in surprising ways. While working in England a few years ago, I had developed a cordial relationship with my boss, who was chairman of the company, and in fact the only other Jew in the firm. He was not religiously observant, but since we met once a week to discuss business matters, I summoned up the guts to ask him if he would be interested in beginning our weekly meetings with a 10-minute session in Mishnayos. To my surprise, he was thrilled to do so. And so we began doing this every week. As time progressed, he came to the shiur every week not only to learn Mishnayos, but to ask questions on the parshah and halachah, as well.

  • The Constant Question

As I just indicated, many of the points highlighted in this discussion apply not only to those who work in a non-Jewish environment, but to those who work in a Jewish environment, as well. Being nice to people and doing outstanding work can actually create a kiddush Hashem, and at the same time have the not-insignificant result of helping build a person’s reputation in his and her place of work. This is true whether you’re a stock broker, a rebbe or learning in a kollel. In fact, the Rambam in Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah (5:11) delineates the prescription for successful kiddush Hashem. This includes treating people well, dealing honestly in business, and keeping a positive attitude. And the notion of “internal” kiddush Hashem via volunteering some of one’s talents and time is something everyone has an obligation to do. Hashem gave each of us special abilities and talents. It is certainly expected that we share a portion of these berachos with others.

Sometimes the potential kiddush Hashem opportunity is right before you, other times you must look hard to find it. The key is to always be asking yourself, “How can I do my best to be mekadesh Shem Shamayim both externally and internally?”

 
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