Is your word as good as gold? Would someone do business with you on a handshake?
I recently officiated at the funeral of Sam Fogel, father of Howard Fogel, a member of our community in Stamford, CT. Sam clearly would have been able to answer in the affirmative to these questions. How about you? Imagine how different the world might be if we trusted one another.
A survivor of the Holocaust, Sam came to America with no more than the shirt on his back. He began working in a garment factory and slowly assumed more responsibility. He was known for his honesty and integrity, never taking even a thread that did not belong to him. He heeded the world of Albert Einstein, "Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters."
When the owner of the factory retired, he turned to Sam with an offer to buy the business. Without much money, Sam explained he could not afford the investment. Yet, a banker from Hanover Bank knew of Sam and his reputation as a person of the highest integrity and on a handshake alone, with no down payment, loaned him the money to start his tie business, Fogel Ties.
He trusted him intuitively. How different the world could be if there were more people like Sam Fogel? We aspire to a society based on trust and truth. The Bible highlights the significance of our words and whether we can be trusted. For instance, if a person makes a promise, he is required to keep it. God states in Numbers (30:2), "When a person makes a vow, he should not make it profane." This is a reminder not to devalue or cheapen our words. God created us with the power of speech. Each word creates or destroys. As Solomon wrote, "Life and Death are in the hand of the tongue."
When we make a promise, do we deliver? When trusted with confidential information, do we protect it? Is our word one people can count on?
Soon after Sam purchased the factory, a young buyer from Bloomingdales came to him and asked if could manufacture a few ties as he was interested in starting his own business. They built a relationship that lasted decades. His name was Ralph Lauren. Sam was so highly regarded for his sterling character that even when Polo began manufacturing clothes overseas, Ralph Lauren insisted that the ties were made at Sam’s factory as long as it remained open for business.
Sam harnessed God's gifts not only to rebuild his life, but to employ and care for his devoted employees and become a pillar of generosity in his community.
What will they say about you? How will your children and grandchildren remember you? Are your handshake and your word as good as gold?
To learn more about finding the courage to live by your words and strengthen your character, order Rabbi Cohen’s new book What Will They Say About You When You are Gone? Creating a Life of Legacy