Trumah 5771

January 30, 2011

7 min read


Trumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19 )

GOOD MORNING! What do you think is the first question that you will be asked in the World to Come? The Talmud, Shabbat 31a tells us that the very first question is "Were you honest in business?" Amazing! Everyone is seeking spirituality, an emotional connection - and the Talmud is telling us that if you want to be God-like, then treat people with honesty.

Pirkei Avos, Ethics of the Fathers (an anthology of wise sayings), 2:6 teaches: "An ignoramus cannot be pious." We can't just trust our instincts and our heart as to what is right. (Sometimes you can't tell whether you have a burning heart ... or heartburn.) One must study and know the Torah to know what is the right thing to do. How? I personally enjoy reading articles sent from the Business Halacha Institute. Each week I test my moral compass to see how I would have done in the situation. Here's a recent article by Rabbi Meir Orlian, a writer for the Business Halacha Institute, about someone canceling a car service... (the Torah sources are in parentheses).

Tuvia answered his cellphone, "Hello! Tuvia's Car Service." "Good morning Tuvia," said Mr. Gluck. "Can you pick up my brother from the airport tomorrow at 7 AM?" Tuvia checked his schedule. "I have something at 9, but am available at 7," he said, "It costs $40. Should I put you down?" "Yes, please," said Mr. Gluck.

No sooner had Mr. Gluck hung up, when another person called. "Are you available to take me to the city tomorrow morning at 7?" "Sorry," said Tuvia, "but I just booked someone else then."

At 8:30 P.M., Mr. Gluck called again. "Good evening, Tuvia," he said. "I'm sorry for disturbing you." "That's OK," said Tuvia. "We're set for tomorrow at 7. Right?" "Actually," said Mr. Gluck, "My neighbor has to pick up his son anyway from the same flight as my brother. Is it OK if I cancel?"

"It's actually a problem," said Tuvia. "After you booked, another person asked me to drive him at 7, and I had to turn him down." "Maybe he still needs a ride?" suggested Mr. Gluck hopefully. "I'll check," said Tuvia, "but at this point it's not likely." Tuvia tried the other person, but he had made alternate arrangements. He called Mr. G. back: "He made other arrangements, and at 8:30 in the evening, it's not likely that anyone else will call."

"Well, there's no point in your going to the airport," said Mr. Gluck. "It's just a waste of time and gas." "That's true," said Tuvia. "But what do you expect me to do? I gave up a potential job for this. You're causing me to lose $40!" "I'm not sure what to do about the money," said Mr. Gluck. "But don't waste your time going." He hung up.

Tuvia turned to his wife. "People think they can just book and cancel at whim! I'd like to hear what Rabbi Dayan has to say about this." Tuvia asked Mr. Gluck to meet with Rabbi Dayan and discuss the issue. "Does Mr. Gluck have to pay me the $40?" Tuvia asked. "In general, if a person hires a worker with a verbal agreement and retracts before the worker begins the job, the worker does not have a monetary claim," replied Rabbi Dayan. "However, he can have tar'umos (complaints) against the person for having caused him extra effort to find alternate work. Therefore, it's not ethical to retract without good cause. If alternate work is readily available, though, the worker can't have a complaint (Choshen Mishpat, SM"A, Shach, and Aruch Hashulchan 333:1).

"But it's not fair here," protested Tuvia. "I was not able to find an alternate job for that time." "I was getting to that," said Rabbi Dayan. "The person is only exempt if the worker can find an alternate job, albeit with some effort, or if the worker had no other potential job. However, if the worker could have taken another job earlier and now he cannot find one, it is considered a davar ha'aved (loss) for the worker, and the person has to pay him for having caused that loss (C.M. 333:2)."

"It's not fair that I should have to pay $40, though," argued Mr. Gluck. "Although Tuvia lost the job and the $40, he did not have to pay for gas; he did not have to get up early, spend time driving there and back, or sit in traffic. He had the morning off." "That's true," acknowledged Tuvia, "but still, I lost out."

"Mr. Gluck obviously does not have to pay for gas," Rabbi Dayan said. "Furthermore, a worker will often be willing to accept partial salary and have free time. Therefore, he does not have to pay Tuvia the full price for his labor, but rather as a poel batel (idle worker), which means the amount a worker would be willing to accept to have the time free. This is typically evaluated at half the wages, although it depends on the difficulty and pay scale of the work (Taz C.M. 333:1; Pischei Choshen, Sechirus 10(10)). "Therefore," Rabbi Dayan concluded, "if Tuvia's usual fare to the airport is $40, which includes $10 for gas, Mr. Gluck has to pay $15."

"Would there be a different decision in the following situation?" asked Mr. Gluck, "Let's say that the plane was significantly delayed or diverted." "If you had to cancel for reasons beyond your control and were responsible about notifying the worker promptly," replied Rabbi Dayan, "you do not have to pay, even if the worker lost out on alternate work or went already (C.M. 333:2)."

If you are intrigued and would like to learn more about ethics, honesty and treating people fairly, please visit Business Halacha Institute's website In addition you can receive their weekly newsletter "Business Weekly" by sending an email to All new subscribers will receive a free pdf book Money the Bottom Line that you will likely find fascinating.

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Torah Portion of the Week

This week's Torah reading is an architect's or interior designer's dream portion. It begins with the Almighty commanding Moses to tell the Jewish people to donate the materials necessary for the construction of the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary.

The Torah continues with the details for constructing the Ark, the Table, the Menorah, the Tabernacle (the central area of worship containing the Ark, the Menorah, the Incense Altar, and the Table), the Beams composing the walls of the Tabernacle, the Cloth partition (separating the Holy of Holies where the Ark rested from the remaining Sanctuary part of the Tabernacle), the Altar and the Enclosure for the Tabernacle (surrounding curtains forming a rectangle within which was a large area approximately 15x larger than the Tabernacle).

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Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states:

"And the Almighty spoke to Moshe saying, 'Speak to the children of Israel that they take for me an offering" (Exodus 25:1-2).

What lesson can we learn from the juxtaposition of the Torah portion of Terumah following the Torah portion of Mishpatim?

Mishpatim teaches that a person's money must be his own according to the dictates of justice and the letter of the law, comments Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik. Terumah deals with donations to charity. Before a person gives money to charity, he must be very careful that his money was not acquired by cheating anyone else. If a person gives charity by stealing from others, his charity is not considered charity. A mitzvah that someone would fulfill by means of violating other commandments is not considered a good deed.

When it comes to doing good deeds, the ends do not justify the means. Both the ends and the means must be in accordance with the dictates of the Torah.


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Action is character.
--  F. Scott Fitzgerald


In Loving Memory of

Richard J. Brownstein

friend, mentor, mensch


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