Parshas Breishis - The Amazon Seller

By BJLife/Rabbi Moshe Pruzansky

Posted on 10/01/21

Parshas HaShavua Divrei Torah sponsored by
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At the end of our parshah, a relatively short amount of time after Hashem had just created the world, He utterly regretted His decision and decided to wipe out the entire planet, by bringing a mabul and starting over only through the righteous Noach.

What caused such a severe reaction from our Av HaRachaman, our Merciful Creator, the One Who bestows so much kindness upon all of mankind and Who is the ultimate Tov U’Meitiv?

Although the generation proceeding the mabul committed many sins, interestingly, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 108a. Also, see Rashi Noach 6:13) openly states that only ONE sin in particular was responsible for sealing their fate: stealing.

Now, there are many sins in the Torah. Why would stealing, in particular, which isn’t even counted among the cardinal sins, justify the utter destruction of the entire planet?

We all love a deal. Some scour grocery store circulars and online search engines for the best prices and the latest sales. Others savor discovering that a $1,000 airline fight has been mistakenly posted for $100. There are even special websites created specifically to let us know about these “steals” – be it children’s toys, clothing or travel opportunities. That’s why this story – related by Rabbi Yoel Gold in Ami Living Magazine (Fulfilled By Chesed –by Rabbi Yoel Gold) – is so striking:

Selling on Amazon can be a gamble at times. It’s easy to get your business started because you don’t need your own website or warehouse, but there are cautions too—the company takes a commission and it can penalize sellers for making mistakes.

Chaim found that out the hard way. As an Amazon seller, he stocks a wide variety of products, including electronics. A few weeks ago, he had some new items to post, including 70 iPads that he had decided to sell for $400 each. He created the listing on Amazon, set the price, and posted it, anticipating a steady influx of sales.

The next morning, to his surprise, all of the iPads had been sold.

“Wow”, he thought—“that was amazing”. He quickly calculated that he had earned $28,000 overnight!

But, there was something suspicious about it. He had never, ever sold all of his stock so quickly; iPads were a popular product, but not that popular.

He took a closer look and froze in horror. When he created the posting, and set the price per item, he had inadvertently missed a zero. Instead of selling each iPad for $400, he had mistakenly sold 70 iPads for only $40 each. Chaim was devastated. How could he have been so careless? He made the calculation again, wincing. Instead of earning $28,000, he had only earned $2,800—a substantial loss.

It wasn’t too late to do something. The iPads were still in the warehouse. In theory, he could cancel the sales, but Amazon would slap him with a cancellation fee for each of the 70 items & it would hurt his reliability rating with the company. People would see that his online store had a reputation for canceling orders and they would be wary of buying from him in the future. Also, Amazon could even suspend his account. In the long run, canceling would only hurt him more.

While Chaim was sitting in his office ruing his negligence and trying to figure out his next step, a new email pinged into his inbox. He didn’t recognize the address. The subject line identified the sender simply as “Yehuda from Lakewood.” He clicked the message and opened it.

“Hi, Chaim,” Yehuda wrote. “I’m an Amazon seller, like you. I sell iPads too, and I’m always looking around at other sellers to see what they’re up to. Last night, I saw that you had posted iPads for $40. It was obviously a mistake, and from your name I realized that you were a fellow Yid. I didn’t want you to lose so much money, so I bought all of the iPads. I’m more than happy to return all of them to you so you can post them again at an appropriate price.”

Chaim was floored. Yehuda was offering something no competitor would ever do; he would report that the order had been filled, boosting Chaim’s credibility. Chaim would pay back the $2,800 he had spent and would be able to resell the iPads, as he had intended all along.

Once the initial shock had worn off, Chaim was filled with gratitude for the chessed of a fellow Jew. He composed an email to express his appreciation.

“Thank you so much!” he wrote. “Who are you?”

“Yehuda from Lakewood,” was all the other man would say. He did not want to give his last name or any other identifying information. As far as he was concerned, he had done nothing heroic—only what any Jew would do.

There is nothing more G-dly than honesty in business and with our money. One reason for this is because there are few greater and more concrete demonstrations that one fully acknowledges that there is truly a G-d Who runs the world, and Who even controls one’s day to day income, than when one is scrupulously honest with money and in business*. This fact is compounded by the reality that one’s income is literally the lifeblood for themselves and their family.

Unfortunately, as our parshah clearly illustrates, this fact is a double-edged sword. While the above is certainly true, on the other hand, when a society steals regularly, as was the practice of the generation that was wiped out by the mabul, it demonstrates the entire generation’s united attitude that G-d does not run the world. It also demonstrates their refusal to demonstrate or acknowledge His presence within their day to day lives. Such actions, as per the Torah, warranted the utter destruction of the entire planet.

Living Inspired

The Gemara in Sanhedrin 108a states that the generation of the mabul had incredible material wealth, which Hashem had showered upon them. However, instead of using it to feel gratitude towards Hashem, the Gemara states that they allowed it to lead them to decide that they didn’t need Hashem and that they could manage without Him (see there).

There are many ways to combat the sin of the generation of the mabul – a sin that can clearly merit to save or destroy a planet. One can, of course, do so by being honest with money and in business.

One can also do so by acknowledging and thanking Hashem each time that one buys something, thereby demonstrating the understanding that all money & material wealth is truly from Hashem and not from man or from one’s own power. One can also do so by davening to Hashem before going to work, and, by thanking Hashem after every paycheck and financial success.

May we all merit to remind ourselves constantly of Hashem’s complete involvement in all financial matters. As illustrated in our parshah, this trait, or lack of it, is powerful enough to save or destroy a planet.

Gut Shabbos


*- The Ha’amek Davar (Devarim 25: 13-16) explains that one who is dishonest in business in order to make more money each day, is not overtaken by a sudden lust. Rather, such actions are cold and calculated. It comes from him deciding that he cannot make money in this world without cheating. Such an action, says the Ha’amek Davar, can stem from idolatry; not believing in G-d.