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Beit Midrash Jewish Laws and Thoughts Pathways in Personality Development

Chapter 13

13. Theft in the Work Place and in General

Part Thirteen of "Pathways in Character Development" It is not enough that one refuses to steal time and money from others, the mere thought of such behavior ought to strike one as repulsive.
Dedicated to the speedy recovery of
Dvorah bat Miriam
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In this lesson we will deal with the need to practice caution when it comes to greediness, and with distancing oneself from all semblance of theft.
Pathways in Personality Development (52)
Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed
12 - 12. Greed and the Prohibition Against Theft
13 - 13. Theft in the Work Place and in General
14 - 14. Caution Regarding Sexual Immorality
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Robbing somebody of his time in also a form of theft. The working hours of a hired laborer, whether he is employed on an hourly, daily or monthly basis, belong to his employer. The worker's time is not his own, and therefore any preoccupation with things not connected to work during working hours is considered outright theft.

Jewish Sages exempted laborers from reciting traditional blessings said before and after eating bread so that they not be detracted from their work any more than necessary. In addition, laborers were permitted to continue their work uninterruptedly while reciting so central a prayer as the "Shema," by heart. If this was the attitude of the Rabbis regarding the precedence of labor even when it clashed with religious obligations, clearly it is forbidden to occupy oneself with mundane acts which detract from the work load. If, one defiantly went ahead and behaved in such a manner he is, in fact, guilty of theft.

True, in our days things have changed and we can assume that employers are not so strict with their employees that they prefer they did not bless on the job. Yet even today, while the permissible is permissible, when it comes to those things which the boss is particular about and of which he disapproves, it is forbidden for the employee to do them, regardless of whether or not he is satisfied with his wages. Even if he believes that he is being taken advantage of, there is absolutely no justification for being slack in one's work as a result. Nothing permits straying from the working conditions which one originally agreed to. It makes no difference whether he works in a private factory, a public factory, or a state factory. The prohibition against theft does not change. There is no difference between an administrator or a laborer.

It is told that Rabbi Aba Helkiya, while working as a paid laborer, was approached by some Torah scholars while in the middle of work. Though greeted by them he would not even reply "Shalom," so as not to disrupt the work assigned him by his employer. Our forefather Jacob, too, said, "In the daytime I was consumed by drought and in the evening by frost, and my sleep fled from my eyes." Jacob had worked loyally and devotedly for his master Lavan despite the fact that Lavan did not treat him properly.

The employer, of course, must also be fair towards his employees and not take advantage of them. He must pay them a fair wage for their efforts, and not exploit the fact that it is difficult to find work, paying a low wage which is not in keeping with accepted standards. If he does this, becoming wealthy at the expense of his employees, though he may not be guilty of outright theft, he is not completely clean of all semblance of theft and the other transgressions connected with it.

For the sorts of transgressions which effect one's fellow man even Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, cannot atone. Until a person has gone and asked forgiveness from his fellow man, there is no atonement. If the employer does not forgive his employee - the employee remains unforgiven; and if the employee does not forgive his employer for taking advantage of him through exaggerated underpayment - he, too, is not forgiven.
Even if a person performs a Mitzvah while on the job, it will not be to his merit, rather it will be seen as a transgression. In this vein our Sages teach that "One who steals a measure of wheat, and then proceeds to grind it into flour, to bake it, and, before eating, to recite the blessing over it, is not blessing, but profaning, as it is written, 'And the thief who blesses profanes God.'"

One must, then, become accustomed to distancing himself from anything even resembling theft, not to mention actual outright theft. Instead of desiring other people's wealth one must develop a sense of loathing and repulsion regarding the taking of money which is not his. Money which does not belong to him should appear disgusting to him, so much so that he be unable to enjoy it at all, rather his pleasure be derived only from his own money which he earned honestly and justly, through the labor of his own hands.

Because theft is so repulsive in the eyes of God - "The abomination of the Lord, your God, are all who do these," - it is not enough that one refuse to steal time and money from others, the mere thought of such behavior ought to strike one as repulsive. When this has become the case one will most certainly distance himself from it.

Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed
Rosh Yeshiva of the Bet El Yeshiva, was the head of the Yesha rabbis board and rabbi of Bet-El, founder and head of Arutz 7.
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