“Cause I Just Got Paid”: Parashat Ki Tetze 5775

Parashat Ki Tetze is a potpourri of laws. These include the laws of marriage and divorce, the laws of ploughing one’s field, and some of the laws of jurisprudence. Also included is a law that, unless explained carefully, can tear a hole into the very heart of Judaism.

Here is the law in question: In the laws regarding treatment of a hired worker, the Torah tells us [Devarim 24:14-15] “You shall not withhold the wages of a poor or destitute hired worker, of your brothers or of your strangers among you. You shall give him his wage on that day and not let the sun set over it, for he is poor and he risks his life for it, so that he should not cry out to Hashem against you, so that there should be sin upon you.” One may not withhold the salary of someone who has performed work. The worker must be paid what is owed to him each and every day before sunset.

Now here is where things begin to unravel: A few parshiot ago the Torah commanded us [Devarim 11:22] to “cling” to Hashem. The Talmud in Tractate Ketubot [111b] asks how it is possible to cling to Hashem if He is (metaphorically) an “all-consuming fire”. The Talmud concludes that “clinging to Hashem” actually means “emulating Hashem”: Just like He is merciful, so should we be merciful, and so on. This concept works both ways. The Jerusalem Talmud in Tractate Rosh HaShanah [1:3] teaches that just as man should emulate Hashem, Hashem emulates man. Just as we perform mitzvot, so, too, does Hashem The Talmud brings the verse [Vayikra 22:9] “They shall keep My charge (v’shamru et mishmarti)” and quotes Hashem as saying, as it were, “I am Hashem Who keeps My own mitzvot so to serve as an example to man”. Man keeps Kosher and so in some way Hashem, too, keeps Kosher. Man wears Tefillin and so Hashem, too, wears Tefillin[1]. It turns out that when we try to implement this concept on the payment of a labourer, we find ourselves with a huge problem in the realm of reward and punishment.

One of the basic tenets of Judaism is that Hashem created man with freedom of choice. A person is rewarded if he chooses to do good and he is punished if he chooses to do evil. A question that has been asked a nearly infinite number of times is “How come bad things happen to good people?” Indeed, a cursory look at the world often makes it very difficult to discern Divine Justice. The answer to this imbroglio is found in the verse [Devarim 7:11] “Observe the commandments, the statutes, and the ordinances, which I command you today to perform.” The Talmud in Tractate Avoda Zara [4b] concludes that while we must perform the mitzvot today, we will not receive any reward until tomorrow – in the afterlife. And that’s just not fair. Why is it forbidden for man to withhold payment from his worker when Hashem withholds our payment for one hundred and twenty years?

Rabbi YY Rubinstein explains the “Bad-Things-Happen-To-Good-People Paradox” in a most intuitive manner: Imagine two groups of people who are identical in almost every possible way. One group is told to go out and live their lives however which way they please. They should engage in debauchery, they should eat anything that looks good, and they should engage in ethical hedonism. The other group is told to live their lives according to the Torah: they should wake up early to learn and to daven, they should keep Kosher and they should send their children to Day School at exorbitant cost. Twenty years later the two groups meet.

What would happen if all the ethical hedonists were bankrupt and suffered from leprosy while all the members of the other group had great tans which they got on their recent Caribbean Cruise? It is obvious that nobody in his right mind would forsake the Torah. It simply wouldn’t be worth the pain. In administering immediate reward and punishment, Hashem would have taken away man’s freedom of choice, and so Hashem must withhold our reward until after the game is over.

The problem with Rabbi YY’s theory is that sometimes man is more foolish than we give him credit for. Even when it can be proven that the path that a person is on will most certainly lead him to ruin, often he will still take that path. Perhaps the immediate pleasure is too much for his sense of discipline. Perhaps he feels he can still have the best of both worlds. The point is that for better or worse, man will never totally relinquish his free will.

Rav Yaakov Reischer, writing in the “Iyun Yaakov[2], suggests a more talmudically rigorous solution. I do not receive a pay check every day. Rather, I receive a monthly salary. Does this mean that my employer is remiss? No, because my contract stipulates that I get paid on the first of each month. What about the guy who fixes my car? If it takes him two days to do the job, do I have to pay him at the end of each day? No, because he only earns his payment after the job has been completed. Man’s “work” for Hashem is similar: we are put on earth to do mitzvot. If Hashem were to reward us immediately after we performed a mitzvah, we might eventually reach the mistaken conclusion that we had done enough, and that we were ready to “live off our savings”. Alas, our job is not over until the day we die, and so Hashem does not have to pay us until we have passed into the next world.

Luleh Mistefineh, I’d like to propose an answer that puts an entirely new spin on the concept of reward and punishment. What is “Olam Ha’ba” — “The Next World”? What does our future reward look like? The Rambam discusses these questions in the eighth chapter of Hilchot Teshuva: “In the world to come, there is no body or physical form, only the souls of the righteous, without a body, like the ministering angels. Since there is no physical form, there is no eating, drinking, nor any of the other bodily functions of this world, such as sitting, standing, sleeping, death, sadness, laughter, and the like. Thus, the Sages of the previous ages declared: ‘In the world to come, there is no eating, drinking, nor sexual relations. Rather, the righteous will sit with their crowns on their heads and delight in the radiance of the Divine Presence.’” What kind of reward is this? How do we “delight in [Hashem’s] radiance”? And what’s this business with the crowns?

After Am Yisrael sinned with the Golden Calf (egel), Hashem tells them [Shemot 33:5] “Take off your crowns and I will know what to do with you”. Rashi, quoting from the Midrash, explains that when Am Yisrael told Moshe [Shemot 24:7] “Na’aseh v’nishma” – “We will obey and we will listen” – Hashem rewarded them with two crowns, one for “na’aseh” and one for “nishma”. After they sinned, these crowns were stripped from them. Ergo the crowns worn by Am Yisrael are symbolic of the keeping of the Torah and the performance of the mitzvot.

In a similar vein, our Sages tell us that the Torah is an extension of Hashem. Therefore the wearing of crowns in the World to Come while “delighting in Hashem’s radiance” symbolizes the rejoicing of the soul in mitzvot that were performed by the body in this corporeal world. That is to say: the reward we receive for the mitzvot we perform is in understanding the gravity of what we have done. As it says in Pirkei Avot [4:2], “Sechar mitzvah — mitzvah” — “The mitzvah is its own reward”.

In the World to Come we will understand that when we shook the lulav we were really shaking the foundations of the universe. We will understand that when we set aside time to learn each morning, we were building a bridge over raging rapids.

And here is the problem: the currency in which we receive the reward for our good deeds is worthless in this world. I will always feel strange when I shake the lulav because at the end of the day I’m waving a palm frond. And as much as I appreciate the quiet time at 5:00 AM learning Talmud and sipping a cup of coffee, sometimes the temptation to go back to bed is overwhelming. In order to appreciate the reward that we receive for our good deeds, we must receive that reward in the World to Come, where we will be able to see things to which we are currently blind. We will see that what we did we made a difference. We will see that we changed the world. We will see that we mattered. There can be no greater reward than this.

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5775

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Moshe Dov ben Malka and Yechiel ben Shprintza.

[1] The Talmud in Tractate Berachot [6a] describes what is written in Hashem’s Tefillin.

[2] Eiruvin [22a]

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over thirty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2000 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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