The Job Hunter
By Rabbi Mordechai Kruger
He found it floating at the top of the basement stairs. A single piece of paper in a plastic cover, it was the only thing that Sandy had left my friend. Everything in the basement—kids’ bedrooms, his office, sefarim, appliances, electricity, heat, everything—ruined. Only a slip of paper was left. And if he had been given the chance to save the one thing that mattered most, he would have chosen this.
It was a receipt from Service Merchandise, a catalog store that used to be in Bay Harbor Mall. He had decided to save up to buy a video camera, a very expensive item on his kollel budget. A week before a family simcha, he didn’t have enough saved up, so he decided to pay with the cash he had and put the rest on a credit card. Except things got confused, and before he realized it he was in the car with the camera and a receipt marked “PAID” and the cash was still in his pocket. And no one would know . . . but that’s not right. So he went back to the store and it took an hour to explain, but he paid the full price. And saved the receipt in a plastic cover pinned to the wall near his desk. Because things get tough and confusing, and you have to remember what’s right. Even Sandy couldn’t take that away.
Everyone knows that being honest is important. But there’s something else about being honest. It’s a vital skill in every stage of every career. Because at the top of nearly every list of skills that employers want—the ones that really lead to success—is honesty. So what can I write in a column about honesty except, well, “be honest”? Will it help to tell about promising careers ruined by little fibs, by inflated travel vouchers, little by little until trust and confidence are gone? Should I recommend that everyone read A Fire in His Soul by Amos Bunim, the biography of a businessman whose honesty never wavered? Can everyone learn from the eulogies for Moshe Reichmann that tell how he taught the whole world about the honesty of a religious Jew? How do we teach our children—for that matter, how do we teach ourselves to live with honesty?
I’ve written before about skills that can’t be taught well in a classroom. Honesty is certainly one of those. It’s taught in every classroom, but the headlines show that the lessons aren’t working. But I think my friend got it right. I think that every person needs a motto, a statement, a personal bottom line, that tells what he stands for. He needs to pin it to the wall, not over the front door, just in a small quiet place where he can see it and point it out to his kids so they’ll know, too. This is what we stand for.
Another friend of mine (I have some really good friends) has an old picture. It shows the emblem of a company that his grandfather owned about a century ago, and it includes the cryptic words “Remember the Nines.” I figured it out because I’ve known other good Jews who used “9” as a symbol. It refers to the numerical value of the letters in the word “emes”—truth (taking the sum of the first digits in 1, 40, and 400). The company is long gone, but children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren have grown up knowing what their family stands for.
People wonder what they can do to help their children succeed. It turns out that teaching them honesty equips them with a skill that leads to future success in the workplace. Sorry, check that; teaching doesn’t work. Living honesty will make the difference. Live it in some simple quiet way that nobody has to know about, but you and your kids can give each other a wink or a look that makes it easy to decide what’s right. It’s what we stand for. What’s your motto? v
Rabbi Mordechai Kruger is the founder and director of Pathways to Parnassa, an organization providing job-search and career coaching to our community. He can be reached at email@example.com.