Vayetzei: A full day’s pay, a full day’s work

1 12 2011 presents this parsha shiur by Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg


Yaakov Avinu worked very hard as a shepherd for Lavan. The Rambam1 refers to Yaakov when he discusses the proper way an employee should work for his employer. He writes as follows.

But a worker may not do his own work at night and hire himself out for the day or thresh with his cow in the evening and hire her out for the day. Nor may he starve himself, giving away his own food to his children because by doing so he weakens himself physically and mentally and renders himself incapable of exertion in his work, thus depriving the employer of what is due to him.

A worker is supposed to try to keep himself healthy in order to be able to produce for his employer. The Rambam continues,

Just as the employer is enjoined not to deprive the poor worker of his hire…so is the worker enjoined not to deprive the employer of the benefit of his work. By idling away his time, a little here, a little there, just wasting the whole day deceitfully, indeed the worker must be very punctual in the matter of time. Seeing that the sages, Chazal, said we’re so solicitous in this matter that they exempted workers from saying the fourth bracha of Birchas Hamazon. The worker must work with all his power, seeing that Yaakov hatzadik said ‘ki b’chol kochi avad’ti es avichem.’ And therefore, Yaakov received the reward even in Olam Hazeh “vayifrotz ha’ish m’od m’od.”

This is a famous Rambam describing that when you work for someone you have to put in a full day’s work. You are not supposed to cut corners here and cut corners there. Yaakov worked very hard for Lavan. It is actually striking, Yaakov says (Breishis 31,40), “For these years that I worked for your father, vatidad she’nasi mei’einai” – that means he barely slept. This is in contrast to what we find in Chazal, that during the fourteen years in Yeshivas Sheim V’Ever, Yaakov barely slept because he was learning. And now for these twenty years working for Lavan, he barely slept because he was working so hard.

Rav Baruch Simon shli”ta quotes2 that the Midrash says that Hashem rewarded Yaakov because of how hard he worked for Lavan. The pasuk teaches us that Hashem came to Lavan in a dream and said don’t start up with Yaakov at all. What zechus did Yaakov have that he merited this special protection from Hashem? Chazal say, “mikan anu l’meidim shezechus m’lacha omedes b’mokom she’ein zechus avos yechola la’amod.” It was the zechus of Yaakov’s working that protected him even more than the zechus avos from Yitzchak.

This is an important lesson for us. A person has a job, he has an obligation to put in a full day’s work and Jews should be known for how carefully they honor their commitments and obligations. Rav Simon points out further that this is especially true for someone who works in Klei Kodesh, someone who is involved in Chinuch or Rabbanus. The Gemara writes that a teacher of students has to be extra careful in his work. If a person is fortunate enough to have a job, he should work hard at his job. One reason is this is a form of hishtadlus to keep his job, and secondly this is a Halachic obligation, as the Rambam describes.

Rav Simon points out that the Rambam here refers to Yaakov as ‘Yaakov hatzadik’ in connection with the fact that he was yashar, was scrupulously honest in his work. We can learn form here that if a person wants to achieve the special status of being a tzadik, he has to be very careful in putting in a full day’s work, and not cutting corners at the expense of his employer.

Good Shabbos,

Beinish Ginsburg




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