“An Honest Day’s Work” by Prof. Gerald August

Feb 24th, 2011 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Portion of the Week
The Tabernacle was built with raw material and labor. The material came from anyone willing to give of their possessions to the building. Labor came from Betzalel, the master craftsman, and other craftsmen. They built a place where The Divine Presence dwelt. Did they gave an honest days work? For such an important project with the whole community watching closely, it seems reasonable to assume they were honest in their labor.

In our lives at work, what is our obligation under Jewish thought? The answer is given in a strikingly direct teaching by the Sages of the Talmud. When someone comes before the heavenly court for judgment, the first question to be asked is: Were you honest in business?

An example of not giving an honest day’s work is exemplified by people who spend time at work using the computer to play games or otherwise waste time. Of course, you are allowed a few breaks, but overall do you put in a productive day?

Another area of honesty has to do with deception. The meticulousness of Torah thought in this area is highlighted by a story about Rabbi Aaron Kotler, of blessed memory, who was raising money for a new building for his yeshiva. He was shown an artist’s rendition of the building. It would be used when soliciting funds, so the donors could see what they were paying for. As he looked at the drawing, he noticed a small flowerbed near the entrance to the building. He asked if it was certain that the flowers would be planted. He was told, no, but this made the place look nicer. He immediately told the artist to take it out! If it was not certain the flowers would be there, it would be dishonest to tell donors their money would be put to this use.

The concept of the giving heart is mentioned in the building of the Tabernacle. Is there a place to do more at work than just your job?

A good example is my friend Leah. She was working at a residence for special needs people. Her duties involved doing food preparation and cleaning the bathroom. When she was cleaning, she made sure the place was spotless, unlike some of the other people who did this. This was her job, and she gave an honest day’s work. She also noticed that some of the food was not appropriate for those residents who were diabetic, and would point that out to her bosses. It was not her job to be a dietician, but her giving heart wanted to take care of the residents. By bringing these problems to the attention of the senior staff, she also protected her employer from possible lawsuits if people got sick.

The Torah portion mentions the givers of the material and the workers. Together they made the Tabernacle possible. In our time, there is no Tabernacle, But even today the willing heart and honest work can blend to create a place where The Divine Presence dwells.

Next week is Adar I, and the yartzeit of my mother. This is in her memory.