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A Fair Wage

In today's economy, the topic of fair wages for workers is increasingly dominating the economic news. Employers, seeking to cut costs, either outsource their jobs to India or other places where the living wage is cheaper, or hire illegals to take up the slack. In the meantime, skilled workers are having trouble finding work, particularly with the many plant closings that have accompanied the declining economy. Should U.S. workers give up the hard-won job benefits in exchange for more economic development? Or will this just lead to further exploitation of workers?

With all the talk about fair wages and benefits, less is heard about the work ethic of employees. Are they putting in a fair day's work and giving their employers their money's worth? In addition to mandated breaks, are workers taking off more time than what is allotted to them, or failing to work with alacrity?

If a worker is hired for a designated number of hours, to complete a certain amount of work, it borders on stealing if he or she does not put in a full day's work. Maimonides writes at the end of his laws of hiring: "The worker is cautioned not to steal from his employer by wasting a bit here and a bit there... he must be exacting with his time."

A sterling example of employee dedication is our forefather Jacob. In this week's portion we read of his employment as a shepherd over the flocks of his father-in-law, Laban. Laban was a master swindler and cheat, and sought to deny Jacob his fair wage in hundreds of ways. Nevertheless, as the Torah teaches us, this did not affect Jacob's dedication to his work. He continued to do outstanding and diligent work for Laban. 

Jacob teaches us a work ethic that is commendable for us to emulate. We may indeed have a right to demand from our employers the wages and benefits that we feel we are worth. However, whatever contract we sign must be honored in full, even if we feel it doesn't reflect our full value. Anything less puts us in the category of stealing. 

As Jews, we are employees of G-d Himself. The task that we are charged with is to fulfill Torah and mitzvot. In exchange, we are promised a reward, both in the physical and spiritual realm. In the physical realm we are promised health, income, peace and success in all our work. In spiritual terms, the reward is revelations of G-dliness, which we will experience primarily in the time of Redemption.

The work we are asked to do is not simple. We must use every spare moment of our day for Torah study and fulfillment of mitzvot, which we must do with all our ability. And we must be honest with ourselves. We cannot hide from our "employer," even though we are given free will. It's in our hands to choose whether we will do this work honestly and faithfully, with a sincere heart.

Nevertheless, we retain the right to insist on being paid our wage fairly, in full and on time. The ultimate reward that we are promised is the Redemption with Moshiach. Although we know that we have much to improve in, our pay is long overdue. Let us cry out to G-d, ad mosai, how much longer? It is time for G-d to reveal Himself to us and pay us our due.


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