Payday: Ki Tetze 2016

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Are questions of business ethics raised in our society enough? Do employers get away with too many abuses of their employees? Or are employees and other critics too hard on them?

Our Torah portion makes clear that employers need to be diligent in at least one respect:

The Pitch: “You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer, whether a fellow Israelite or a stranger in one of the communities of your land. You must pay out the wages due on the same day, before the sun sets, for the worker is needy and urgently depends on it; else a cry to Adonai will be issued against you and you will incur guilt.” (Deuteronomy 24:14-15)

Swing #1: “We have been taught: ‘You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer … You must pay out the wages due on the same day … for the worker … urgently depends on it.’ Why did the hired man climb a ladder [to build a house] or hang [precariously] from a tree [to gather its fruit] and risk death – was it not for his wage? In another comment: ‘The worker … urgently depends on it’ is interpreted to mean that he who holds back the wage of a hired person is as though he were taking his life from him.” – Bava Metzia 112a

Swing #2: “‘Oppression’ here consists of delaying the payment of a worker’s wages. The ‘calling out’ to YHWH recalls a similar cry of the oppressed in Exodus 22:22, 26. Overall, the rhetoric of the passage far exceeds that found in a parallel text in the Holiness Code (Leviticus 19:13).” – Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses

Swing #3: “The poor man is not required to ‘cry out to God’ or to withhold his call. He may do as he desires. If he calls out, God will hurry retribution upon the employer. Even if he does not call out, God will consider it a sin.” – Sifrei

Late-Inning Questions: Do you think the Torah overstates the importance of timely payments? Or does our text and our commentaries frame the issue appropriately? How does a violation of timely payments compare to other employer violations? Why is it so important for the Torah to weigh in on this issue?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: In order to prepare our hearts for the High Holy Day season, it is traditional to meet the Saturday night prior to Rosh Hashanah. Please join us Saturday, September 24th at 8:00PM for Havdallah and Dessert, followed by, “DATELINE: Be’er Sheva”: An exclusive interview with the participants of the Akeidah (the Binding of Isaac). A brief Selihot service follows the program.

The Big Inning at the End: Now that the Cubs have captured the National League Central Division crown for 2016, the team has the luxury of resting their players in preparation for the postseason. But I can speak for many Cub fans who say that as good as the division title feels, October will determine whether this season was successful or not. Perhaps it’s not fair, but it’s reality.

Shabbat Shalom!