BETTER THAN SILVER AND GOLD by Zachary Fisher, NY, NY. (Guideposts, 9/92).
My father was known as a bricklayer and a builder, but what mattered most to him was his good name.
I’m a builder. In my job I constantly find myself facing decisions. Some are easy to make, some are tough. And on some, to get help, I glance over at a silver-framed photograph on the credenza. I can’t tell you how many times that picture has helped me.
Some time ago, for example, after I agreed to purchase a quantity of air conditioners from a supplier for a building under construction, an offer for similar equipment came from another firm at slightly less cost. I picked it up from my desk and studied it. We had no binding contract on the first deal, only a verbal agreement that had no legal hold on it. Just a handshake on the deal.
Pondering the decision, I swung my chair to face the credenza and looked at that photo. It’s a picture of my mother and father. And when I look at it, I think of what my dad stood for. When Dad came through Ellis Island as a young man from Russia on July 14,1904, he proudly wrote down "bricklayer" as his occupation.
And although he owned little more than the clothes on his back, he carried with him something more valuable than a satchelful of gold ingots.
I was to find out how strong that something was when working for him as a young man. Dad was then a brick contractor on apartment houses in Brooklyn and Queens. I still remember the way his brown eyes flashed with pride when he pointed out "his" buildings to us boys. All three of us had gone to work with him as soon as we could.
I learned what hard work really was when I began laying bricks. It’s a job that never stops. You lay the mortar, and the bricks keep coming. You pick one up, butter the end with mortar, bed it securely and reach for another, brick after brick, minute after minute, always keeping one eye on the plumb line. You hardly have time to stretch, much less take a break.
At day’s end after laying 2,500 bricks, I knew how my ancestors felt in Egypt when lives were made "bitter with hard bondage, in mortar, and in brick" (Exodus 1:14). Dad, who really knew the Scriptures, had pointed this out to me as the earliest written record of our family’s business.
It was while laying bricks I learned the one thing about my father that means the most to me today.
We were building a six-story apartment house in Queens when a January ice storm followed by a raging blizzard stopped work for weeks. Meanwhile Dad had to continue paying expenses, and with his usual small margin we boys knew there would be no way he’d come out ahead on the job.
We were walking home from temple one morning when I spoke up: "Dad, why don’t you do like some other contractors and tell the builder he’s got to come up with some more money or we walk off the job?" Dad said nothing for a moment as we trudged along the snow-covered
walk. Finally he said, "I’ll show you why."
At home after we hung our coats, he went to the bookcase and pulled out the Bible.
He opened it to a page and ran his finger under a line. "Read," he said. It was from Proverbs (22:1): "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold."
"You see?" he said. "The builder and I shook hands on the deal. And when it comes to choosing between a good name and money, well.…” His dark eyes bored into mine. "Maybe, Zachary, you should study this book more."
We lost money on that contract, and on some others too. But there were always more builders out there wanting us to lay their bricks. "You can trust Fisher," was the word. "His handshake is as binding as the mortar in his work."
I continued looking at the tall, thin man in the silver-framed photo. He had been gone for some years now and our business had grown far beyond his dreams. But I’d never forgotten that proverb he pointed out so many years ago: "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold" (Prov. 22:1 KJV).
I had my answer. I put the new offer aside. We already had a handshake on the deal.