A person's income for the year is fixed and determined from Rosh Hashanah. Due to the fact that we are unworthy of open miracles, it is necessary for us to expend effort to obtain our predetermined livelihood. The necessary degree of effort is to the point where one can realistically justify to himself that his efforts are indeed sufficient to enable him to earn a livelihood. One must be careful, however, not to confuse laziness (which is to be frowned upon) and faith (which is to be admired).
If a person wishes to obtain more than his predetermined share and expends effort beyond the degree appropriate for him, then God arranges additional expenditures for him so that he will net only his predetermined amount. Many times such a person will still continue to justify his efforts and will say to himself "How correct I was to exert extra effort to earn more money, for if not, how would I have been able to pay all of my bills?" Such a person doesn't understand that if he would have earned less, then God would have made his expenditures less.
The Chofetz Chaim compares such a person to someone who screwed a faucet into a barrel and saw wine coming out of it and, through the urging of his friends, screwed in several additional faucets so that he should have even more wine. Though momentarily it appears that his efforts have yielded him extra, nevertheless, in the end the amount of wine in the barrel is still fixed, and the placement of additional faucets was of no use, as the wine would have emptied out on its own.
[We present here some real-life cases to illustrate some of the Jewish laws relating to money and fair business practices:]
CASE: Your boss, Gershon, asks you to purchase a fax machine for the office from the electronics store down the block. The salesman offers you a price somewhat higher than this model's usual selling price at this store, and you're not in the mood to start haggling. Is it all right to pay the store the asking price, as you yourself are not receiving any monetary benefit from the inflated sales price?
RESPONSE: You must shake off your laziness and negotiate with the salesman for a fair price, because otherwise you would be diminishing your employer's money, as he has trusted you to prudently buy this item in the fashion that a normal person would buy it for himself. The fact that you are not personally gaining financially is not of consideration.
CASE: Your son's school has made a special arrangement with the local bookstore to give all of the school's students and parents a 10 percent discount on all purchases. This new policy gives you the perfect opportunity to purchase a new challah cover to replace the worn and wine-stained cover that you have been using since your wedding. You happen to bump into your neighbor on the way to the store, and he asks you if he can give you money to pick up a particular book for him, since you are going to the store anyway. Can you obtain the 10 percent discount from the store on your entire purchase?
RESPONSE: Store rules allow the discount for the school's students and parents only, not the general public. As such, you may take advantage of the discount for your family's own needs only. Your neighbor is not a parent at the school, and therefore you must inform the store to not give you any discount for items purchased on his behalf.
CASE: You're about to sneeze, and you notice a full box of tissues on your co-worker's desk. You can't ask the co-worker for permission to take a tissue, because he is out sick that day. Can you take a tissue?
RESPONSE: You may take a tissue because no one cares about someone else taking one of his tissues [an insignificant object]. If you know that your co-worker specifically doesn't allow this, then it would be prohibited.
CASE: You are buying loose onions at Yehuda's Fruit and Vegetable Market. Is it okay to peel off the onion skins and break off the sprouts at the top before placing the onions in your bag for weighing?
RESPONSE: The price per pound includes the non-edible portion of the onion as well. Taking off the portions of the onion that you do not want prior to weighing your purchase would be shortchanging Yehuda.
CASE: You are passing by Kalman's Exercise Equipment Store and notice in the window the same model exercise machine that you bought somewhere else last week. You want to know if you got a good deal or not. Can you go into the store and ask Kalman how much the machine costs?
RESPONSE: You may go to him when he is not busy and say: "I am not interested in buying this exercise machine, as I already own one. I am curious, though, as to how much you are charging for such a machine." Outright asking for the price isn't allowed, as every seller feels a degree of pain if a potential sale does not materialize. Sellers are willing to forego this pain for the opportunity to make a sale. However, in this instance there is no chance of a sale, as you would not buy a second exercise machine, even at a great price.
CASE: You call up Schwartz's Transportation and ask Mr. Schwartz to come to your house within ten minutes, as you have to rush to catch a plane at the airport. Mr. Schwartz says that he will be there in five minutes. Ten minutes have passed, and there is no sign of Mr. Schwartz. Can you take the cab from a different company that is passing by your house?
RESPONSE: You hired Mr. Schwartz based on the understanding that he would come within a certain time frame. He hasn't shown up to perform his obligation, and as such you may go to the airport with the other cab. You may use the other cab even in cases where you didn't specify an exact time period, as long as Mr. Schwartz hasn't picked you up within a reasonable period of time (unless he informed you of an anticipated delay at the time you ordered his services).
Excerpted with permission from "Money: The Bottom Line" - a concise Jewish handbook on money matters for everyone. Published by Feldheim Publishers.