Shabbat Parashat Terumah | 5770
Parashat Hashavuah: Can Charity and Firing Go Together?
This week we read about the call for the giving of a donation for the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), which we pray will be renewed (in the form of a Beit Hamikdash). While the prophets, Chagai and Zecharia, urged the people of their generation to build the Beit Hamikdash, they also said that people should be involved in truthfulness and mishpat shalom (justice based on peace) (Zecharia 8:16). This type of approach is related to the concern for individuals that is behind tzedaka, a term that goes along with mishpat.
At first glance, the worker/employer relationship is not one that is based on charity, as one earns his keep. However, the truth is that the two are quite related. The Rambam (Tzedaka 10:6) counts finding someone a job as the highest form of tzedaka because it makes it unnecessary for one to have to reach the position of accepting classical tzedaka. As people say, it is better to teach a person to fish than to give him a fish. We find an element of tzedaka in the workplace regarding the laws of ha’anaka, the parting present when one sets free his Jewish servant. The Sefer Hachinuch extends this concept to a worker who finishes his period of employment. If one should have concern for one’s former employee’s financial situation, all the more so is it correct to try to ensure that he is able to continue his employment as long as he likes and it is feasible.
When, during difficult financial times, one is forced to contemplate firing a worker, he should consider the following. Certainly a company’s CEO’s first commitment is to ensure the survival and thriving of the company. If refraining from firing will endanger these responsibilities in the foreseeable future, then mercy for one or more workers can endanger the livelihood of all of the workers. While hard times often mandate austerity plans, termination of a worker should be a last resort, after other possible steps. It is better, for example, to cut the salaries of workers than to fire some and turn them into needy people. One should also take into account the likelihood of the person who he is considering firing of finding other work (assuming he is still productive). Seniority is also a factor in determining whom to fire, due to the element of hakarat hatov (recognizing past favors received). Regarding tzedaka, one’s first responsibility is to relatives and so, in a privately owned firm, their employment should have precedence over others’.
During difficult financial times, everyone should look into his own moral shortcomings to see what part he had in society’s problems. Then he can and should turn to Hashem in prayer to improve matters. His sensitivity to others, though, is part of his moral obligation. (Many of these ideas are based on a responsum that will hopefully be published soon in our book, Bemareh Habazak, vol. VII.)
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