SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM Afterword: Business Situations
In this segment we are introduced to Shimon, a reckless businessman with an appetite for risk — especially when the money which he is investing is not his own.
One day, Levi opens the newspaper and comes across an article about rumors concerning a lucrative business partnership between Reuven and Shimon. Levi is dismayed; Reuven is quite wealthy and Shimon is sure to make good use of his partner’s money.
There is no question, says the Chofetz Chaim, that Levi is obligated to warn Reuven of the dangers of such a partnership (provided that the conditions of toeles have been fulfilled).
This applies if the partnership has not yet been finalized. If, on the other hand, Levi learns of the partnership after it is already a reality, then the halachah is different. As we have already learned, it is forbidden to provide someone with information which would cause him to take action which is not sanctioned by halachah. Once a partnership exists, it is not a simple matter to dissolve it. Shimon may suffer a loss from the break-up and a beis din (rabbinical court) might rule that Reuven cannot dissolve the partnership without offering compensation. The fact that in the past Shimon has made some reckless deals may not be sufficient grounds for dissolution. Furthermore, in a court of law, Levi could not testify as a single witness. Even if he had a supporting witness with him, he would have to present his case before a beis din for Reuven to take action. Therefore, Levi cannot relate his concerns to Reuven if he will react by immediately dissolving the partnership.
On the other hand, if by warning Reuven the result will be that Reuven will remain in the partnership but will be on guard to make sure that his money is used wisely, then Levi should inform him.
The Chofetz Chaim also discusses a case where Shimon is not a reckless businessman, but one who has fallen on hard times. He had been successful in the past, but now has suffered some major reversals. Reuven, his prospective partner, is unaware of this, but Levi knows all about it. The Chofetz Chaim addresses Levi. “Beware, my brother,’’ he warns him. To relate such information would be, in the Chofetz Chaim’s words, “a great sin.” We are speaking where there is no evidence that Shimon’s losses had anything to do with recklessness or poor judgment. It was simply a matter of things not going his way. Therefore, says the Chofetz Chaim, there is every reason to believe that Hashem will now take pity on him so that he can succeed as he did in the past. Furthermore, assisting someone so that he can succeed at earning a livelihood and not have to live off community donations is actually the highest form of tzedakah (charity). And one never loses from an act of tzedakah (see Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 247:2).