18 Feb Parashat Mishpatim – Every Job Is A “Second Job”
Parashat Mishpatim begins with the law of the “Ebed Ibri,” or indentured servant. The situation of “Ebed Ibri” is one where a thief is caught but does not have the means of paying back what he stole. In order to pay what he owes, the thief would sell himself as a servant and work for six years, after which time he would be released.
The Torah introduces this topic by writing, “Ki Tikneh Ebed Ibri” – “When you purchase a Hebrew servant…” One Rabbi raised the question of why the Torah refers to the servant as an “Ebed” already at this point, at the time of the transaction. Seemingly, he does not become an “Ebed” until after he sells himself; at the time of the purchase, he is still a free man. Yet, the Torah refers to him as an “Ebed” from the outset.
The explanation is that the Torah here alludes to the fact that even before a person is purchased as a servant, he is already a servant – to the one, true Master over the world. The Torah wishes to impress upon the master, first and foremost, that the person whom he brings into his service is already in the service of G-d. As such, he is limited with regard to the responsibilities and tasks he may impose upon the servant. He is not allowed to force the servant to perform any job that entails violating the Torah, because the servant’s subservience to G-d precedes his subservience to his human master.
This point is very relevant even nowadays, when the institution of “Ebed Ibri” does not apply. When a person hires a Jewish employee, he must remember that the employee is already committed to another “Employer.” By definition, any job a Jew takes on is a “second job.” Our first responsibility and obligation is to the Almighty. As such, employers must ensure to avoid assigning their employees tasks that entail any violation of Halacha.
We should be proud of the many businesses in our community that strictly adhere to this policy. Baruch Hashem, many businessmen in our community give their employees off on Shabbat, Yom Tob, Hol Ha’mo’ed and Purim, and are also careful not to force their workers to do anything dishonest. They understand that regardless of an employee’s salary, his first and most important obligation is to G-d, well before any professional responsibilities that he assumes. Even before the contract is signed, the worker is already contracted by his Creator, to whom he is bound at each moment of his life and whose laws must always take precedence over his employer’s wishes.