על כל דבר פשע על שור על חמור יבא דבר שניהם
אשר ירשען אלקים ישלם שנים לרעהו … כב-ח
The gemara (שבת לא.) states: “When man is led in for judgment he is asked, ‘נשאת ונתת באמונה’ – ‘Did you conduct your business affairs with faith (integrity)? Did you establish set times for studying Torah? … Did you debate wisely to understand the deeper meaning (of knowledge)?” These questions, which place business affairs before Torah study, seem to contradict a different statement of Chazal (קידושין מ:): “The beginning of man’s judgment is in respect to words of the Torah.” Apparently, one is first judged in regard to Torah and then in regard to other matters.
R’ Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman ZT”L suggests that the two passages in the gemara are not contradictory for they refer to different judgments. A person is judged every single day, as well as at the beginning of every new year. It is on these days of judgment that a person must first answer to his responsibility to study Torah as the primary item on the docket, and only afterward, to queries regarding his integrity in business affairs. Illicit business practices can always be neutralized through monetary compensation, whereas neglect of one’s obligation to Torah study can never be repaid.
After a person dies, however, he must stand judgment for his entire lifetime. Then, a person’s financial misdeeds remain on his record, with no opportunity for recompense. Dishonesty in business harms others, and as such, even takes precedence over neglect in Torah study when both are beyond self-correction. This ultimate emphasis on personal integrity as well as personal commitment to Torah study demonstrates how dominant these must be in every individual’s personal life as well as in our national existence.
One year, at a convention for the “Association of Jewish CPAs,” R’ Shimon Schwab ZT”L addressed the audience and said in no unclear terms: “A person who is dishonest in business is a כופר בעיקר (does not believe in G-d at all)!”