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GENESIS — 3:18 thorns

GEN412 “My business is in an extremely competitive industry. Is there anything wrong with demanding long hours and hard work from my employees?”  Hard work is in itself an admirable trait. It is true that the decree to the first man, “By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread,” is presented as a curse, but the sages of the Talmud Pesachim 118a explain that it also contains a blessing: Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said, “When the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Adam, [this verse], his eyes flowed with tears. He said to Him,” Master of the universe, will I eat from the same trough as my donkey?” But when He said to him, “By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread,” Genesis 3:19 he was consoled.  Untamed nature is hostile to man and reduces him to a beast, eating the same food as a donkey. But man has the ability to perform directed work that refines and improves nature. Through hard physical work as well as intellectual labor (thus “the sweat of your brow”), complex human cultivation and processing of wheat makes into bread. Our lifestyle based on the highly developed products of human labor distinguishes us from the beasts. We see, too, that Jacob was proud of the dedicated service he gave his father-in-law, telling his wives, “I served your father with all my might.” Genesis 31:6  The Torah is concerned that man may be reduced to a mere working machine. To this end, the Ten Commandments specifically gives the Sabbath day as a day of rest for everyone—the Torah further tells us that we are not to give our servants “crushing work,” Leviticus 25:43 and this ethical principle applies to ordinary workers as well. Sefer Ha-Hinnuch 346.  Where do we draw the line between admirable and excessive work? According to Jewish law, this distinction is not based primarily on how much exertion is involved. The nature of the work is just as important. In particular, we have to be careful not to assign work that is gratuitous or demeaning. GRATUITOUS LABOR  Rashi’s commentary on the Torah explains the definition of crushing work is “work which is unnecessary, in order to dominate him. [For instance,] Don’t tell him, “Warm this cup”, when you do not need it.” It goes without saying that open busy-work (demanding unneeded tasks) is demeaning, but Rashi goes on to explain that it is improper even when the servant does not know the work is not necessary. The average employee probably does not need to be told that giving busywork is not the best way to show respect to employees, but many modern workplaces, especially the 24/7 variety, exhibit various kinds of hidden busy-work. These can violate the spirit of Jewish law and also can be counterproductive.  This kind of overtime can encourage employees to take “under time.” This is a term coined by Tara Parker-Pope of the Wall Street Journal for all of the tricks employees use to pretend they are on-the-job when they really taking care of personal affairs. For example, in large corporations in one country, it used to be the custom that in the early evening the managers would all leave the office. But they didn’t head home to their families; instead they went together to a local bar. And woe betide any aspiring manager who dared skip this nightly ritual! It goes without saying that not much work was accomplished on these jobs, but an employee who did not participate was nearly sure to be passed over for advancement. While this is an extreme example, employers and high-pressure workplaces would do well to review the demands they make on their workers. Most of what the workers do is probably needed, and it’s certainly legitimate to cultivate a professional and collegial atmosphere. For instance, face time, dress codes, and occasional company social gatherings are certainly not gratuitous. But if there is an ongoing pattern of norms that exist only to display assiduousness, then there is a good chance that you are imposing “crushing work” on your employees. An example would be if the employees are ashamed to be the first to leave the office, even if they have finished their work satisfactorily. Human beings naturally have a limited ability for effective work. Anyone can stay in the office for 24 hours, but few can accomplish more than ten or twelve hours of genuinely productive activity. So if the employer is careful not to demand gratuitous sacrifices from employees, the other aspects of a balanced workplace, including providing adequate opportunities for family life and personal development, will often take care of themselves. INTRUSIVE DEMANDS Many managers today do not really work very hard. They’re usually no more than 10 hours a day in the office, and they’re home by seven-thirty, or at the latest eight. Of course, sometimes they have to make one or two phone calls in the evening, but that’s not a major demand. Of course, they can enjoy a leisurely game of golf on Sunday (with a client); but is it really such a burden to glance at your email on your personal digital assistant between holes? That’s dead time anyway. The results of all of these demands is that while the actual amount of work is no more than fifty or sixty hours a week, the employee is effectively on call for 24 hours a day. Jewish law and tradition strongly emphasize the need to have part of the week, and part of each day, which are completely inviolable. Each week has Shabbat, when we are not allowed to do work or even talk about it. The prophet Isaiah tells us that we will be worthy of delighting in God’s blessing if we observe the Sabbath appropriately: “If you turn away due to the Sabbath from doing your business on My holy day, and you call the Sabbath a delight, and honor what is holy to the Lord; to dignify it by refraining from your customary ways, pursuing your business and speaking of it.” Is not enough to avoid actual work; one day a week we need to refrain completely from all business pursuits and speech. And each day needs to have fixed times set aside for prayer and study, when no other considerations are allowed to intrude. The Shulchan Arukh states, “A person should establish a time for study, and this time should be rigid, so that he will not miss it even if he thinks he can make a great profit.” Shulchan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 155 We find in Jewish law that an indentured servant is exempt from most positive time bound commandments. He does not have to sit in the sukkah, for instance, even if he has the time to do so. Maimonides, Sofar 6:1.  The condition of servitude is intimately bound up with the idea that your time is not your own; it belongs to the master.  An employer should take steps to make sure that his employees are not reduced to slaves, with no time to call their own. The workplace routine should ensure that each employee has a reasonable amount of time each day and each week that is completely free of working intrusions. MEIR 190-193


GENESIS — 3:19 sweat

GEN424 Most people go to work primarily in order to earn a living. This is the consequence of the “curse of Adam,” which decreed: [this verse]. At the same time, most of us spend more time interacting with our colleagues at work than with family or friends, which highlights the need to pay attention to the human side of human resources. Examining the Jewish sources, we can distinguish three prominent themes regarding employer/employee relations, or what is known today as “human resources.” One theme is the fundamental interdependence of the two sides, and the responsibility of employer and employee alike to fulfill their side of the employment bargain in a responsible fashion. Maimonides writes, “Just as the employer is warned not to steal the wage of the [employee] and not to delay it, so the [employee] is warned not to steal the work of the employer and idle a little here and a little there.” Maimonides, Sekhirut 13:7  Alongside this consideration is the recognition that despite the ostensibly equal status of employer and employee in the bargain, the hired employee is never quite the equal of the boss. Since the employee is more vulnerable, a large body of laws and customs provided him with special rights that make his subordinate status less extreme and also more tolerable. For example, the Torah warns the employer to pay wages promptly. Deuteronomy 24:15  Finally, we find a consistent emphasis on the human side of human resources—the need to supplement ethical behavior in the monetary aspects of work with thoughtful conduct in interpersonal relations in the workplace.  For example, the Torah tells us not to lord it over our servants, Leviticus 25:43 and Jewish tradition urges us to apply the same standards to ordinary worker relations. Sefer ha-Hinnuch 346 MEIR 175


GENESIS — 3:24 way

GEN450 … we must remember that ultimately Torah is not about ethics alone; it is above all about holiness, about drawing near to God. Our sages repeatedly taught that ethical perfection is a necessary prerequisite for spiritual elevation; but it is in no way a substitute. Consider the following well-known midrash: Rabbi Ishmael the son of Rav Nahman stated, Consideration precedes Torah, as it is written: “[He placed at the East of Eden cherubim and the turning sword] to keep the way to the tree of life.” [this verse]. “The way” refers to consideration; the Tree of Life is Torah. Leviticus Rabbah 7:11 It is true that ethical behavior comes first; that is how we set out on the way. But it is only the way—the goal is the Tree of Life, which is Torah.  MEIR 8


GENESIS — 24:1 old

GEN1164 … Jewish law tells us that normally we should help a person prepare for death. The person whose spirit is weak is mentioned as the exception to the rule. The rabbis of the Talmud Baba Metzia 87a made a remarkable interpretation of the Torah that emphasizes the importance of awareness of advancing age and proper preparation for death: Before Abraham, there was no aging.   If someone wanted to speak to Abraham, he would [accidentally] approach Isaac; with Isaac, he would [accidentally] approach Abraham. Abraham came and asked mercy, and aging came, as it is written, “And Abraham was old, developed in years.” [this verse] Before Jacob there was no infirmity. Jacob asked mercy, and infirmity came, as it is said, “And he said to Joseph, behold, your father is infirm.”   Jacob’s reason for asking for illness was so that he would have the opportunity to prepare for his passing, as he did when he called his sons before him to bless them. Genesis 48-49 In contrast to the youth-worship that characterizes modern popular culture, our sages are telling us that aging is a blessing, because it distinguishes the old and displays their seniority and experience. Our final infirmity is also a blessing, for it warns us of impending death and enables us to prepare properly, just as Jacob used his last days to instruct and bless his twelve sons.   The lesson of Jewish tradition is that we should review normal manifestations of age and illness not as curses but as invaluable milestones, which inculcate consciousness of our stage of progress in the journey of life. It could be a very serious mistake to deprive others of this special blessing of awareness by misleading them about their true medical condition. Perhaps there are certain things they want to do before death; imagine the frustration and disappointment when they discover that they were prevented forever from realizing their dreams by well-meaning but misguided relatives and caretakers. I heard of one man who, in his last moments, cursed his family for not informing him of his condition, because he was unable to see certain family members and have other experiences he dreamed of completing in his lifetime. Another insight that should deter us from misleading a patient is that by the time people reach advanced age, they have usually acquired a generous measure of human wisdom. The Talmud Kiddushin 32b teaches this insight through an interesting play on words: the word zaken (“elder”) can also be read as ze kanah (“his person has acquired”): And what is it that we acquire with age? Wisdom. Zaken [elder] refers only to someone wise, as it is written, “Gather me seventy men of the elders of Israel,” Numbers 11:16   Rabbi Yosi ha-Galili says, Zaken refers to one who has acquired wisdom.  There is a tendency to treat old, infirm people as if they were children.   This is quite unjustified. We should remember that even if old people are weak in their bodies, they have decades of experience and wisdom, which their children lack. Their understanding and judgment should be respected. Furthermore, there is a good chance that the same wisdom will enable them to see through any attempted to cover up. This can have a terrible effect on family relations exactly at the time when trust and openness are most necessary. For example, I heard of the case where a man begged his doctor, “Please do not let my family know that I know about my condition. It will break their hearts.” Here the patient’s condition, the most important concern of the entire family, was known to all. Yet they were prevented from sharing their burdens because of the elaborate charade of supposed ignorance. Another story concerns an elderly couple who had enjoyed a life of complete trust and openness. The husband complied with the doctor’s suggestion to hide the wife’s true condition. She sensed that he was keeping something from her, and a lifetime of total trust was put into question, causing profound anguish to the faithful wife. A further consideration is that lack of information may prevent patients from making informed choices about their treatment. Today, leading medical authorities acknowledge and emphasize the importance of empowering the patient to make such decisions. In the end, factual considerations have to determine the outcome. While we can find a number of anecdotes opposing disclosure, there are just as many, if not more, supporting it. Even if we decide that disclosure is the best policy, it is forbidden to be blunt and insensitive. There are horror stories of physicians who think that openness is a license for terrorizing the patient. One can tell a patient that he has a serious and possibly fatal disorder without playing God and predicting that he has only six months to live. This may not be true and is cruel even if it is. The proper course is to present accurate medical information in an encouraging way, pointing out the best opportunities for improvement without resorting to misleading and discouraging statistics. MEIR 137-8


GENESIS — 30:20 dark

GEN1319 [Regarding employment exit interviews] Just like the employer, an employee has to ensure that the departure process is dignified and thoughtful. Avoid using your resignation statement or letter to express anger toward the boss or to slander fellow employees. Such outbursts are not only unethical, they will give you a bad reputation that you may find hard to live down.  If there are serious lapses in the workplace that you feel a responsibility to report, it is a good idea to inform your employer, but it may be best to wait until a few weeks after you quit, when both of you will be less excited and more objective. If you are asking for a reference, then it is certainly prudent to wait until after one has been provided. When God commanded Jacob to return to his homeland, putting an end to his employment by his father-in-law, Jacob hid what he was doing because he was afraid that Laban would prevent him from leaving. Although this fear was confirmed by Laban’s subsequent hot pursuit of Jacob and his family, the Torah describes Jacob’s plan as a deception [this verse], indicating that in normal circumstances we should avoid this approach. MEIR 186


GENESIS — 33:4 kissed

GEN1401 Fundamentally, all the ethical questions of the Internet have parallels in the ordinary “bricks and mortar” world. Yet … one characteristic emerges as the special ethical challenge of the Internet: anonymity. The highest level of human interaction is the face-to-face encounter, and when this degree of rapport is created, the sense of empathy and the ethical motivation are highest. When we look into the face of a fellow human being, we sense the common human element we share and recognize ourselves, as if looking in the mirror. “As the reflection in the water is to the face, so is the heart of man to man.” Proverbs 27:19   Empathy opens our hearts and makes them as one. As the Torah tells us, Esau was determined to take vengeance on Jacob, but he relented when the anonymous meeting of armed camps turned into a face-to-face meeting of the twin brothers; at that moment Esau ran toward his brother and hugged and kissed him [this verse]. Similarly, Joseph was unable to keep up his carefully planned act of haughty aloofness with his brothers after several face-to-face meetings; his emotions overcame him and he revealed himself to them. Genesis 45:1-2   As the individual element of communication is diminished, so is this psychic connection between individuals. This idea has entered common discourse in the expression a “bare-faced lie.” The highest level of insolence is to lie to someone to their face; when their face is hidden, our ethical scruples tend to be diminished. Once other people become depersonalized in our minds, we lose sight of our ethical obligations to them. In a face-to-face encounter, we actually see the person; if we walk from room to room, we at least hear their voice. A telephone conversation is held over a distance, but at any rate we hear the voice’s reproduction in real time; even a letter bears the sender’s personal imprint through his or her unique handwriting. In traditional communication, “the medium is the message”-the tokens of individuality are an inherent part of the encounter. But the Internet strips our communication of all personal embellishments apart from the actual words of the sender. The factors of distance and anonymity increase the opportunity as well as the temptation for deceit. This anonymity plays some role in all of the Internet [ethical] questions.   [One issue] pertain[s] to using false identities, which is much easier in the chat rooms of cyberspace than in the physical world. Another relates to sending copies of emails without obtaining the permission of their authors and primary recipients or informing them that there are now many other readers peeking into the correspondence—a further exploitation of the Internet’s potential for creating anonymity. Others pertain to the great anonymous ease with which we can copy material protected by copyright or snoop on our employees. The key is to remember that there is a real, live human being at the other end of the connection, a person with feelings and rights. We need to be sensitive to the feelings and expectations of other chat room members, of e-mail recipients, of artists, and of employees.   The ultimate face-to-face encounter is with the Creator. Judaism’s sources on ethics tell us that when we live up to the ethical challenges we face, we can, in a certain sense, “look God in the face” without being ashamed of our behavior. The prophet Isaiah tells us that at the time of the future redemption, when all our human relations will be repaired, we will see God “eye to eye.” Isaiah 52:8.  If we conduct ourselves in the anonymity of cyberspace just as we would in a personal encounter with a fellow human being, then we will be worthy of the Divine glance God’s special providence.  MEIR 211-2


GENESIS — 33:18 encamped

GEN1410 The biblical ideal seems to be “Each man under his vine and under his fig tree,” 1 Kings 5:5 with each person and engaging in independent productive activity. In light of this, is it ethical to make a living through business and commerce?   It is true that the blessings of the Torah are usually directed to the individual farmer or herder, not to the trader. Nonetheless, we also find that our tradition greatly esteems the role of commerce. When Jacob arrived in Schechem, the Torah tells us, he “graced” the city [this verse]. How did he do this? Our sages explained that he established the foundations of commerce by establishing coinage or a marketplace. Shabbat 33b. In order to understand this approach, we have to understand the role of commerce in human society.   Why is commerce necessary to get goods and services to people in the first place? After all, the creator could easily have arranged the world so that all our needs would be fulfilled without commerce or even without effort, as in the Garden of Eden. One aspect of the importance of commerce is that it gives people a motivation for cooperation. When every person or every nation is self-sufficient economically, there is a tendency for them to be isolated or even hostile. However when people see that there is an opportunity for mutual gain through trade, they learn to accommodate each other and get along.   MEIR 4


GENESIS — 33:19 purchased

GEN1412 One of the complaints against globalization is that the rich countries that impose market institutions in developing countries also try to evade these same institutions by obtaining special political favors. We see that Jacob not only encouraged equitable market institutions for others; he also subjected himself to them by paying full price for his field. Globalization can be a force for economic and humanistic benefit as long as the powerful groups that spread it and the cultures that adopted keep it in perspective. Worldwide markets are a good basis for prosperity and understanding, but we need to be careful not to follow the example of [the Roman Empire], which used to them as a bridgehead for immorality and domination. Instead, we need to follow the example of Jacob, who realized that the marketplace is a benefit when it has grace – a sense of proportion and propriety. MEIR 15-6


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