This morning I received an email asking where it says in the Torah to pay workers promptly for their labor. The person mentioned that she needed to know for a letter that she is writing.
It’s a safe guess that the letter was to a government official, perhaps the president, about the current government shutdown and the 800,000 federal employees who are not being paid, many of whom are being forced to work nonetheless.
I told her that the passage she wants is in Leviticus, chapter 19, also known as the Holiness Code. It’s called that because it begins: “The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, the LORD your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:1-2)
And just a few verses later we are told: “You shall not defraud your fellow. You shall not commit robbery. The wages of a laborer shall not remain with you until morning.” (Lev. 19:13)
There are lots of verses in the Bible that can be interpreted in various ways, but this one is pretty clear: If someone works for you, you must pay her or him promptly. You may not wait until the next day, because your employee might need to buy milk and bread on the way home from work.
Government work, especially the political side, is messy. My mom always said that one of the best things that ever happened to our family was when my dad lost his bid for a seat on the New Rochelle city council when they were newly married. He did eventually serve in both federal and New York State governments, but never ran for office again.
I think the problem is that politicians lose track of what’s really important, of the jobs that we elected them to do. We didn’t elect them to turn around and immediately begin to raise money to get elected again, and we most definitely did not elect them to hold 800,000 workers hostage while they tried to prove who is more powerful than whom.
This week we read the Torah portion that recounts the story of the parting of the Reed Sea. One of my favorite stories isn’t in the Bible, but is about two guys in the midst of the enormous crowd crossing together. They spent the entire passage complaining about the smelly fish flopping around, mud getting on their robes, crying children, donkey poop on the soggy ground underfoot.
When they got to the other side and saw Miriam and the women dancing and singing, they complained to her that they didn’t see any reason for celebrating. Miriam’s answer? “You were so busy looking down and worrying about trivial matters that you forgot to look up, and you missed the greatest miracle of all time.”
It is time for our politicians to stop obsessing over trivial matters. Time for them to look up, and see the miracle that is the United States of America, a country established to be a beacon of justice and liberty and equality. It is time for them to do the right thing.