Parashat Ki Tetze - Parashat Ki Tetze
הרב שבתי סבתו | כז אלול התשעח | 07.09.2018
Parashat Ki Tetze
פרשת כי תצא
Rabbi Shabtai Sabato
הרב שבתי סבתו
Employer and Employee
The commandments of the Torah are the very foundation of correct societal and individual life. As the Torah states:
וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת חֻקֹּתַי וְאֶת מִשְׁפָּטַי אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה אֹתָם הָאָדָם וָחַי בָּהֶם אֲנִי י-הוה
You shall observe My statutes and My laws,
which a man shall do and live by them; I am G-d.
On the one hand, Hashem looks out for the downtrodden: He "executes judgment for the orphan and widow, and loves the foreigner, giving him bread and clothing" (Dvarim 10,18) - but on the other hand, this does not come at the expense of justice: "Do not prefer a poor man in his lawsuit" (Shmot 23,3). G-d demands the right balance between kindness and justice.
For example, one must behave with both justice and compassion vis-à-vis both the employer and his employee, and not tilt towards one at the expense of the other. The Torah devotes much attention to providing guidelines for fair relations between the two sides. It determines the rights and obligations of both parties, as is suitable for "the judgments of the Lord that are righteous together" (Psalms 19,10).
One of the important rights reserved for an employee is the dispensation to eat of the fruits in the orchard or vineyard in which he is working (with certain restrictions, as we will see). In the weekly portion of Ki Tetze, we read:
כִּי תָבֹא בְּכֶרֶם רֵעֶךָ וְאָכַלְתָּ עֲנָבִים כְּנַפְשְׁךָ שָׂבְעֶךָ, וְאֶל כֶּלְיְךָ לֹא תִתֵּן
When you work in your friend's vineyard,
you may eat your fill of grapes as you desire,
but do not put them in your basket.
Every word in the verse is significant; they show how the Torah maintains a precise balance between the rights of the employee and those of the employer.
This verse, addressed to the worker, permits him to eat of the fruits he is handling, but only under certain conditions. The basic framework is that he may eat until he is full, but he may not pack up extra to take home. This is because what one can put into his stomach is a finite amount, while there is no limit to what he can put in his bags to take with him after work.
The question we would like to ask is: How should we categorize this commandment? Is it an extra "benefit" granted to the worker for his sweat and toil, or a monetary obligation, or possibly something else? Although it may appear to be a type of charity and kindness, a deeper look at some of its laws will show us otherwise.
For instance, the Halakhah (Jewish Law) states that if the worker does not wish to eat any grapes, but rather chooses to save them for his wife and children, he may not do so. If this mitzvah were simply a benefit for the worker, why would he not be transfer this right to his family?
Furthermore: If the employer wishes to give his worker a raise in pay, on condition that he does not eat of the fruits while he is working, may he do so? The answer is that he most certainly may not! He would be in clear violation of a Torah prohibition, and the Beit Din (rabbinical court) would not permit such an arrangement. Again, if we are concerned with the worker's welfare, and he agrees to the arrangement, why is this not permitted?
Once again, we see that we are not dealing here with a normal mitzvah of kindness or charity. How, then, shall we categorize this mitzvah?
And another question: We have seen that the Torah verse for this commandment addresses the worker, advising him of his right to eat, with restrictions. But where does the Torah tell the employer that he must allow his worker to eat of the fruit? Shouldn't there be a clear command to the employer to this effect?
The Torah does not address the employer directly on this matter, but alludes to it elsewhere in Parashat Ki Tetze regarding one's obligations towards his animals:
לֹא תַחְסֹם שׁוֹֹר בְּדִישׁוֹ
Do not muzzle an ox when it is treading grain.
Addressing the farmer, this verse warns him against preventing his animal from eating the grain it is treading. Here too, it would seem that the prohibition is rooted in the command against tzaar baalei chaim, "causing anguish to an animal" – for it is apparently a great torment to the animal not to be able to eat of grain it is passing over. We must then reason as follows: Since the Torah wishes to save an animal from the anguish of not being able to eat while it is working, how much more so is this true for a human laborer! The Torah even commands us straight out:
וְחֵי אָחִיךָ עִמָּך
Let your brother live with you.
-- which means that we are bidden to help improve the situation of one who faces bankruptcy. Accordingly, the orchard owner must have compassion for a poor man who depends upon him for his daily bread and his family's sustenance, and allow him to eat while he works!
But if this approach is correct, why must it be based on a verse referring to an ox and grain? As we asked above, why did the Torah state "do not muzzle your ox," instead of simply stating, "Do not prevent your employee from eating while he is working"? Would this not have been more direct?
Apparently, the Torah took this roundabout route linking the ox and the employee to teach us another very fundamental message. To reveal what the message is, let us take a look at the verses immediately preceding the ban on muzzling the ox. They refer to the punishment of lashes meted out to certain sinners:
וְהָיָה אִם בִּן הַכּוֹת הָרָשָׁע, וְהִפִּילוֹ הַשֹּׁפֵט וְהִכָּהוּ לְפָנָיו...
If the guilty man is to be flogged, the judge shall make him lean over and lash him...
אַרְבָּעִים יַכֶּנּוּ לֹא יֹסִיף
פֶּן יֹסִיף לְהַכֹּתוֹ עַל אֵלֶּה מַכָּה רַבָּה, וְנִקְלָה אָחִיךָ לְעֵינֶיךָ.
He shall not give him more than 40 lashes;
he may not strike him more,
as this will disgrace your brother before you.
What do these two consecutive issues – the ban on extra lashes meted out to a sinner, and an ox treading grain – have to do with each other? Why did the Torah choose to write them next to each other, even though they appear to have nothing in common?
The answer is that they actually do have a common denominator: Dignity and disgrace. The key point in the prohibition of giving even one extra lash is that it is a form of total degradation of the victim. It is as if the flogger is saying, "Here, take this one too – Wham! – to make sure you remember me!"
The Torah is concerned for the human dignity even of a sinner. It mandates punishment, not abuse; the extra lash is beyond punishment, and is rather the degradation of his tzelem Elokim, the image of G-d within him.
By commanding us not to muzzle the ox immediately after the ban on an extra lash, we are taught that even the "dignity" of an ox or other animal must be maintained. It is not that the animal has genuine "dignity," but rather that we must learn that if even an animal must be taken into account, how much more so a person, especially those who have fallen on hard times!
This is therefore more than just a lesson about tzaar baalei chaim or being nice. It is a lesson in maintaining the dignity of others: We must not degrade even a sinner; the same is true for an animal; and the same is certainly true for our own workers, for whom eating of the fruits he is working with is a matter of self-respect. We learn that the employer must give him a feeling of self-worth and dignity, and allow him to enjoy – though not without limits – the fruits he is picking for his employer.
Your Heart's Desire
In light of this understanding, let us return to the verse that tells the worker his rights and obligations:
כִּי תָבֹא בְּכֶרֶם רֵעֶךָ וְאָכַלְתָּ עֲנָבִים כְּנַפְשְׁךָ שָׂבְעֶךָ וְאֶל כֶּלְיְךָ לֹא תִתֵּן
Working in your friend's vineyard,
you may eat your fill of grapes as you desire,
but do not put them in your basket.
The implication is that he may eat as much as he wants, and even from the highest-quality grapes. He is given to feel as if he is the owner of the field and the grapes are his.
The Talmud derives from here that the worker is exempt from having to tithe the fruits, i.e., having to give a certain percentage to the Cohen and Levi. Why is this? Because in this sense, he is like the owner; when the owner eats his own fruits in the vineyard – before he gathers them for storage or sale – he is exempt from tithing, as he is eating in a "transient" manner.
This is as opposed to one who buys the fruits, even in the field itself. If one goes to his friend's field, buys fruits from him, and eats them right there, the very act of acquisition gives a fixed permanence to what might look like "transient" eating, and he must therefore tithe the fruits before eating them.
The employee, exempt from tithing the fruits he eats in the field, is like the owner and not like a customer. The Gmara says that this is hinted by the word כנפשך, which means literally "as your soul [desires]" – "As is your soul's desire, so is the worker's soul's desire." They are the same in this respect.
On the other hand, the next word שבעך, "your fill," is a warning to the employee. He must eat only within reason, and not stuff into his mouth more than that. He must not look at this as an opportunity to eat for free, or to eat more than he normally can; this would be achilah gasah, vulgar eating. The Torah is concerned for his self-respect – but he, too, must have respect for the G-dly image within himself, and not turn his right to eat into repulsive over-indulgence.
Guests at a hotel must also be aware of this teaching. Hotel dining rooms generally feature tables full of heaping piles of food, from which every guest may fill his plate - or plates - to his heart's desire. Some guests eagerly stock up on every possible type of food, and in quantities that surpass their stomachs' capacity, simply because it's for free. "I paid good money for this!" they justify themselves.
-- But what about the image of G-d within them that is being degraded by such vulgar eating??
Returning to our worker and his restrictions: Not only may he not pack up fruits for home, he is also not permitted to artificially increase his appetite – and thus the amount he will eat – by, for instance, dipping the permitted grapes in salt. Again, this is because he must not take advantage of the respect being shown him and turn the important value of human dignity into a "business." This is not an opportunity to make easy profits at the expense of his boss.
On the other hand, the worker is permitted to fast the day before he works, so as to increase his hunger and appetite when he comes to work the next day. The employer, too, is permitted to arrange a hearty meal for the worker before work, in an attempt to reduce the amount of fruits he will eat later. Neither of these actions degrade anyone's human dignity.
Based on this principle of "maintaining human dignity," we can understand why the worker may not fill his pockets with fruits, or bring some home to his family, and why the employer may not raise the worker's wages in exchange for a waiver of his right to eat fruits during work. It is because the value of human dignity demands that the worker be allowed to eat of the fruits that he chooses to eat as he works – no more and no less. Just the very act of choosing gives him a sense of self-respect. Raising his wages without allowing him this right, or allowing him to take home fruits in place of his own eating, are simply forms of trading in the worker's right to self-respect for monetary profit – which is not the Torah's intention.
Love and Honor
The Torah's commandment to watch out for our friend's dignity has the same goal as the famous commandment ואהבת לרעך כמוך, "love your neighbor as yourself" (Vayikra 19,18). The Torah wants us to relate to our fellow man with both love and respect.
In this light, let us now ask another question: The Torah commands us in a roundabout fashion to be careful of another's dignity, deriving it from the command not to muzzle the ox. Yet regarding the similar mitzvah of loving one another, it says it straight out: Love your neighbor as yourself. Why is this?
We can conclude from this that if we can learn a mitzvah on our own in an indirect manner, the Torah prefers to teach it that way. But the mitzvah of loving our neighbors is not self-evident and is not easy to implement, and therefore it must be taught unambiguously.
Incidentally, we can learn the value of human dignity from another mitzvah as well: If a borrower does not return his debt, his creditor may take items from him for collateral. However, this must be done in the most sensitive manner, in order to preserve the borrower's dignity and prevent him from feeling demeaned:
בַּחוּץ תַּעֲמֹד וְהָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה נֹשֶׁה בוֹ יוֹצִיא אֵלֶיךָ אֶת הַעֲבוֹט הַחוּצָה
and let your debtor bring the security to you.
Do not walk rudely into his house as if you own it and choose whatever you want; this would clearly be a blow to his self-respect and his feelings. Rather, allow him to choose the item he wishes to use as security, and let him to bring it out to you.
If this is the case with people whom we might barely know, how much more so is this the proper approach between a man and his wife – his partner in life and everything he accomplishes!
Our Sages of the Talmud (Yevamot, p. 62b) taught as follows:
One who loves his wife as himself, and honors her more than himself, and who guides his sons and daughters along the straight path... the Bible says about him, וידעת כי שלום אהלך, Rest assured that your tent is at peace. (Iyov (Job) 5,24)
The Talmud continues:
One who shows love to his neighbors, and brings his relatives close... and who lends a coin to a poor person when he needs it - the Bible says about him, אז תקרא וה' יענה, תשווע ויאמר הנני, When you call, G-d will answer; cry out, and He will say, I am here. (Isaiah 58,9)
Why does the Talmud tell us that one should love his wife "as himself," and honor her "more than himself"? Why the difference between love and honor?
When the Torah instructs Love your neighbor as yourself, this stems from the profound understanding that all of Israel is one entity, as one body. Every member of Israel is a part of this great entity. When we are told to love someone "as yourself," it means that as we love our bodies, we must similarly love the great body/entity (Israel) of which we are part and to which we belong.
Love of our fellow man, then, actually stems from our own self-love. As such, if a person does not love himself, his love for others will also be incomplete.
Honor, on the other hand, emanates from a sense of worth. The source of our obligation to show honor comes from the Torah command to "honor your father and your mother" (Shmot 20,12). Our admiration for them emanates from the fact that they gave us life and the ability for self-fulfillment.
The essence of our honor and respect for others means that we relate to them as something greater than ourselves. Therefore, one with little self-respect can still respect others.
This is why our Sages instruct a Jew to love his wife "as himself," and not more, and to honor her even more than he honors himself.
- Eliezer ben Shamo'a teaches in the Mishna:
Your student's honor should be as precious to you as your own, and your friend's honor should be like your awe of your teacher. (Avot 4,12)
Avot D'Rabbe Natan provides the source:
From where do we learn that the honor of your student should be as precious to you as your own? From Moshe Rabbeinu, who said to Yehoshua, "Choose men [to fight against Amalek] for us" (Shmot 17,9): He did not say "Choose for me", but rather "for us," indicating that he treated Yehoshua as his equal, even though Yehoshua was his pupil.
Moshe told Yehoshua: "We have a joint mission, and that is to make war against Amalek." Similarly, every Torah teacher should tell his students: "We have a joint mission, and that is to utilize your full potential and abilities. It is my job to teach you, and it is yours to pay attention and absorb."
A teacher's respect for his pupil must stem from the fact that the latter sharpens him with his questions. Even if the students sits passively and asks nothing, the very fact that the teacher must prepare and have the student understand, helps the teacher clarify the material for himself.
The student does not add to the teacher's knowledge, but rather helps him sharpen and hone his understanding. The teacher must therefore see his student's honor as equally important as his own.
On the other hand, when two friends study together, they each add to the other's knowledge; each thus becomes his friend's teacher for certain things. This is why the above Mishna also teaches that "the honor of your friend should be like your awe of your teacher."
In sum: Every person has a uniqueness about him, something that no one else has. Our appreciation for this point is the foundation of the honor and respect we must all have for each other.