[Yaakov] said, “But it’s still the middle of the day; this is not the time to gather in the livestock. Why not water the sheep and go on grazing them?” (Bereshith 29:7)
Yaakov saw the animals lying down, so he assumed that the shepherds were preparing to take the sheep home without grazing them any more. He therefore told them, “Look, it’s the middle of the day.” With these words he conveyed to them the message: “If you’re hired men, you haven’t yet finished your day’s work.”1
Just as it is forbidden for an employer to cheat, misuse or hold back wages from his employee, an employee must take care not to steal from his employer2. Therefore a worker must always be careful not to waste his employer’s time. Although it is understood that everyone needs to take a break from time to time, taking too many breaks during work hours constitutes theft of the boss’ time. This principle applies as well to mitzvoth one performs during work hours. Many bosses are sympathetic to their employees’ spiritual needs, and allow their workers to stop work to pray on the job3. This does not give a worker the right to pray for an unusually long time without his boss’ consent.
Even if one has permission to make personal calls during working hours, making an excessive number of telephone calls at the office on the employer’s time constitutes stealing. There are also other, more subtle forms of stealing from one’s employer, of which every employee must be wary. For instance, a person may not hold a second job if working at that job will cause him to be tired or less alert for his first job. Likewise, a worker must eat and sleep as much as he needs to in order to function properly on the job. Neglecting his body’s basic demands is another form of stealing from his employer4.
A hired worker may not “cut corners” here and there, which can result in production of inferior quality workmanship. Likewise, while he is working he must work with all his strength, as did Yaakov, who testified to his wives, “I served your father with all my strength.”5 Yaakov was compensated generously for his integrity, as the Torah says, “His possessions increased exceedingly.”6
Aside from the monetary reward, there are other benefits of working with absolute integrity. When Yaakov was speaking to Lavan he said, “If the God of my Fathers – the God of Avraham and the dread of Yitzchak – had not been with me, you would have sent me away empty handed. But God saw my plight and the work of my hands. Last night he rendered judgment!”7 While the merit of his forefathers only had the power to save Yaakov’s money, the work of his hands saved Yaakov from Lavan’s plans to kill him.8
1 Rashi on Bereshith 29:7.
2 Rambam, Laws of hiring 13:7; Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 337:20.
3 Aruch HaShulchan 331:3.
4 Choshen Mishpat 337:19.
5 Bereshith 31:6.
6 Bereshith 30:43.
7 Bereshith 31:42.
8 Midrash Rabbah 74:10.
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org