Sedrah Reflections – Ki Tetze: Back to work By Harvey Freeman (to celebrate Miriam & Harvey’s 10th Wedding Anniversary)
Among the many Mitzvot listed in Ki Tetze are several that deal with employer-employee relationships. These are primarily set in the realms of agriculture but they apply equally to other work environments.
Employees may eat from the fruit that they pick (Devarim 23:25 ff) – but they may not do so while actually working, as this would reduce their efficiency, leading to theft from the employer. Also, they may not take any of the fruit home with them, unless given permission to do so. Employers for their part must provide breaks during the day when employees may eat.
Employers must also pay their staff on time: ‘On the same day you shall give him his wages, neither shall the sun go down upon it, for he is poor and sets his heart upon it …’ (ibid 24:15). This Mitzvah has previously been given for all workers (Vayikra 19:13); its restatement here is specific to the poor, whose very livelihoods depend on its fulfilment. The Chafetz Chaim (d. 1933) explains that it applies even when a young child is engaged to do a small task (e.g. running an errand), for which the amount involved is tiny: one should be taught to see the importance of such behaviour from a young age. He extends the message into other areas: thus, for example, one who rents a property must pay the rent promptly.
With many returning to work after the summer break, and the High Holydays fast approaching, it is a fitting opportunity to consider the Torah’s guidelines for workplace conduct. They serve both to ensure fairness and to remind us of our responsibilities to make a ‘Kiddush HaShem’. May we all remember our obligations to one another and in so doing begin 5778 in a manner of which we can be proud.