Parashat Kedoshim: Paying Workers on Time
One of the many laws presented in Parashat Kedoshim is “Lo Ta’ashok Et Re’acha,” which forbids withholding wages. If somebody owes money to a worker for services that the worker provided, he is obligated by the Torah to pay the worker when the wages are due.
Although this obligation might appear straightforward and intuitive, there are, unfortunately, many people who transgress this Torah law by failing to pay the money due to their employees in a timely fashion. A woman in the community once owed her housekeeper wages just before Pesah, but she decided she would delay payment until after the holiday. She wanted to make sure the housekeeper would continue working through Pesah, and she thus figured she would withhold payment as a guarantee that her housekeeper wouldn’t leave her. When the woman mentioned to her Rabbi that she had done this, her Rabbi, insightfully, remarked, “You are so worried about your housekeeper leaving – aren’t you worried about G-d leaving you? Withholding wages is a Torah violation, and thus results in driving G-d way. Who would you rather risk losing – your housekeeper, or your Creator?”
The story is told of a certain Sadik in Bneh Brak who passed away, and during the first night of Abelut (mourning) he appeared to his granddaughter in a dream and said, “The belts! What about the belts?” The granddaughter did not know what this was all about, and so she told the family about the dream. Nobody knew why this man would be asking about belts, until they mentioned the dream to the Sadik’s widow. After hearing about the dream, she remembered that shortly before her husband’s passing, he was not well and lost some weight. She gave his belts to a tailor and asked him to make new holes in the belts so they would fit the ailing man, whose waistline was now narrower. When he returned the belts, the Sadik wanted to pay him, but he refused, saying it was an honor to do a favor for such a distinguished individual. The Sadik, however, was uneasy about the situation. He was not sure whether this tailor refused to accept money because he would not generally charge for this kind of simple job, or if he normally did charge but was embarrassed to take money from this distinguished person. The Sadik passed away before the issue was resolved, and so he returned to his granddaughter in a dream to ensure that this tailor received his wages.
Remarkably, even though the tailor explicitly waived his right to payment, the Sadik’s soul still knew no rest until the wages were paid in full, due to the severity of the sin of withholding wages.
This requirement applies as well to pledges and our other financial responsibilities. Too often, people make handsome pledges to synagogues, for example, over the phone or at an auction, but fail to meet their pledges. It also happens, unfortunately, that people fail to meet their obligations to schools or their other financial responsibilities while spending money on personal luxury items. The Torah strictly warns us in Parashat Kedoshim, “Lo Ta’ashok Et Re’acha” – if we made a commitment, we are bound by Torah law to fulfill it. The Torah’s code of honesty and ethics requires that we meet our financial responsibilities and not try to avoid them out of convenience or indifference.