In this week’s Torah reading, Ki Teitzei, we read of the importance of paying one’s workers on time: “On his day you shall give him his hire, nor shall the sun go down on it; for he is poor, and sets his heart on it.”
The Talmud renders this more literally as “he sets his life on it,” and explains: Your workers have climbed to the top of tall trees and taken other risks to earn their living; how can you callously delay paying them?
According to this idea, the Torah teaches us here to think of the other person’s perspective. As the employer, you simply need a job done and you’re willing to pay to get it done for you. But for your employee, it is a matter of putting food on the table and providing for the basic staples; they may even be risking their safety in order to earn their livelihood. Think about it from their perspective and you’ll pay your workers on time.
Writer Douglas Adams tells a story about the time he was a bit early for the train and went to get himself a newspaper to do the crossword, a cup of coffee and a packet of cookies. He sat down at a table. A man wearing a business suit sat down opposite him; suddenly the man leaned across, picked up the packet of cookies, tore it open, took one out and ate it. Adams was astounded, but he didn’t say anything. He simply took out a cookie for himself. But a moment or two later the man did it again. He took another cookie.
“We went through the whole packet like this,” writes Adams. “When I say the whole packet, I mean there were only about eight cookies, but it felt like a lifetime. He took one, I took one, he took one, I took one. Finally, when we got to the end, he stood up and walked away. I breathed a sigh of relief and sat back. A moment or two later the train was coming in, so I tossed back the rest of my coffee, stood up, picked up the newspaper and underneath the newspaper were — my cookies.”
It’s all a matter of perspective. PJC
Rabbi Levi Langer is the dean of the Kollel Jewish Learning Center. This column is a service of the Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh. Follow the Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter for the latest stories.