The Laws of Employment
At Touro Synagogue, December 2, 2017
We were a merry, well heated band at Touro Synagogue on Saturday. Our minyan arrived early. We had the usual core of regulars, supplemented by Navy personnel, visitors from New York, and from Newton, MA.
In the Parsha, one of the dramatic events was when Yaakov’s name was changed to Israel…actually, it wasn’t changed, it was just an additional name.
Yaakov’s name was changed twice, first after a wrestling match (Rabbi Mandel said it was not clear who he was wrestling with), and once by the Almighty. One might wonder if this was an editing mistake. I think the explanation might be that since Yaakov did not know who he wrestled with, it was better to make clear the source, and the higher the better.
Rabbi Marc Mandel spoke about employee-employer relations. He made clear that the obligations run both ways:
“Yaakov’s father-in-law, Lavan, was chasing after him and caught up with him, and Yaakov says to him, ‘What do you want from me? I worked for you for 20 years. I barely slept-and I helped your estate make great profits.’
“The Rambam, Maimonides, learns out from this that just as there are laws as to how an employer should treat an employee, there are also laws about how an employee should treat an employer.
“In the laws of employment, (Maimonides, Mishnah Torah, Laws of Employment, Chapter 13, Law #7), a worker can’t waste time and must work as much as he can. The Rambam says, 'If you are working you can leave out the 4th Bracha of the Benching because it is only a Rabbinic Bracha.’ The Rambam called Yaakov a Tzadik for working so hard.
“What was Lavan’s reaction? Lavan says, ‘Everything you have is mine. You own nothing.’
“How do you think Yaakov felt when Lavan treated him this way?
“We see in today's working world, very often, the workers are not appreciated. They work hard but they're not appreciated. So it goes both ways-in today’s world-The workers must work honestly and diligently and the employers must recognize and honor the workers for their efforts.
After services we adjourned to the Kiddish. There was more than enough food for all, which stimulated the conversation.
I got a chance to speak with Mr. and Mrs. Lake, of Newton, Massachusetts. Mrs. Lake is a member of a renowned rabbinical family, the Soloveitchiks.
Mr. Lake told me he was an immigrant. He came with his family from Plissa in 1938. Plissa is now in Belarus, but at the time it was in Poland. It is close to Glubokie, just 12 miles away. On June 1, 1942, the 412 Jews in Plissa were murdered during the Holocaust. Two survived the massacre, but one of them was subsequently murdered.
"During the 1950s," Mr. Lake said, “I was in the army, stationed in Germany. I brought my wife, and we rented an apartment on the first floor of a house. Fluent in Yiddish, I was able to understand German, and make myself understood. Invited to church, I explained to the landlady, “Ich bin Jude.’
“Coming home one Friday, I saw that the landlady was on her hands and knees washing my floor. I asked, ‘Why?’ and she replied, ‘It’s your sabbath.’”
The Lakes were invited to a party at the landlord’s apartment. The other guests were the landlord’s friends. Not knowing anyone, Mr. Lake started thumbing through a photo album, and discovered the landlord has been a Gestapo officer. It was a subject Mr. Lake and the landlord never discussed.