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Parsha Halacha – Parshat Vayakhel-Pikudei
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Laws of Accepting Pay for Work Done on Shabbat
The Torah portion of Vayakhel (which is often read together with Pikudei) begins with Moshe gathering the Jewish people and instructing them to observe the Shabbat (Exodus 35:1-3).
Shabbat Repairs Sin
Rabbi Klonimus Kalman Shapiro of Cracow explains (in his classical book Ma’or Einayim) that the Divine energy of the entire world is renewed on Shabbat (see Zohar, Yitro 88b). The Talmud (Shabbat 118b) says that by observing the Shabbat, one is forgiven for all of his sins including that of serving idols (G-d forbid). The reason is that by committing a sin, a person disconnects himself from G-d, but by properly observing the Shabbat one connects himself to G-d completely, thus repairing the effect of the sin.
A Return to Eden
On Shabbat we are forbidden to perform 39 types of labor, all of which interfere with the nature of the world. This represents a return to the state of the world before the original sin of Adam and Eve. At that time no physical labor was expected of man. Rather, all of man’s efforts were expected to be in the service of G-d.
In the Messianic era we will once again return to that way of life. For the meanwhile, however, we must toil during the week to elevate the physical world which was debased through the original sin (and by subsequent sins). On Shabbat, however, we experience a taste of the World to Come (see Brachot 57b). Therefore we may not interfere with nature, for that is how things will be in the Messianic era.
A Prerequisite for Torah Study
According to the Kabbalists, Shabbat is from the realm of Divine thought. This realm is also the spiritual source of the Torah. For this reason, the Jewish people received the commandment to observe Shabbat before they received the Torah (see Shabbat 87b), so that they could connect themselves to the source of the Torah and be able to receive it. According to the Zohar (vol. 3, pg. 29b), a Torah scholar is called Shabbat because his Torah study connects him to the level of Shabbat.
Granted One’s Heart’s Desires
The Talmud says (Shabbat 118b) that whoever experiences the pleasure of Shabbat is granted all his heart’s desires. The explanation for this is that during the week, our prayers are sometimes not answered because we have distanced ourselves (somewhat) from G-d through our sins. On Shabbat, however, we return to G-d. This is alluded to by the letters of Shabbat ( שבת) which are the same as the Hebrew word for return: Tashev (תשב). By experiencing the full pleasure of Shabbat, both physical and spiritual, we turn our hearts into a sanctuary for G-d. Since G-d is close to us, He fulfills the desires of our heart, which has become a sanctuary for Him, as the verse (Psalms 145:18) says, “G-d is close to all those who call Him.”
Healing is Near
The Talmud says that when visiting the sick on Shabbat, one should say, ״שַׁבָּת הִיא מִלִּזְעוֹק, וּרְפוּאָה קְרוֹבָה לָבֹא – It is Shabbat when it is prohibited to cry out, yet healing is soon to come.” On Shabbat we bring ourselves closer to the Creator and bring Him into ourselves, thus connecting ourselves to the ultimate source of perfection. When we are connected to the source of life, we will certainly be healed swiftly.
The rest of this article will discuss the laws of not receiving payment for work done on Shabbat.
No Work for Pay
The Shulchan Aruch HaRav (306:8) writes, “It is forbidden to hire oneself out as a worker on Shabbat even for a permitted task. This decree was instituted as a safeguard lest one engage in commercial activity (which is forbidden on Shabbat lest one write).”
This law applies to Yom Tov as well (see O.C. 585:5).
The worker is forbidden to accept payment, and the employer has no obligation to pay him. In addition, if an employer offers to pay for Shabbat work, he is causing the worker to sin by accepting the payment (Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchato 28:49). If the employer offers payment, the worker should say, “You don’t owe me anything.” If despite this the employer insists on paying, the worker may accept the money as a gift (Mishbetzot Zahav 06:4).
No Rental for Pay
One may also not receive payment for renting out rooms or items on Shabbat. One who sells foodstuffs on Shabbat (see O.C. 323 that this may be done if one follows certain protocols) may demand payment for these items after Shabbat (Shmirat Shabbat Kehilchato 28:51).
Advance Payment or Debt Relief
One may not receive advance payment for work that he plans to do on Shabbat. In addition, it is forbidden to have a portion of one’s debt cancelled in exchange for work done on Shabbat even though he does not receive actual payment. (But See Tehillah LeDavid (306:7) who permits this.)
One may also not barter his Shabbat work in exchange for goods or services (Shmirat Shabbat Kehilchato 28:53 and 54).
From or to Gentiles
One may not receive payment from a gentile for work one did on Shabbat for him (but see below that one may receive payment in a lump sum). One may, however, pay a gentile for work that he does on Shabbat (Shmirat Shabbat Kehilchato 28:56 and 57. See there that some disagree). This payment may only take place after (or before) Shabbat. (As mentioned above, this discussion is about work that is permissible on Shabbat such as assisting in the kitchen and tidying up. Whereas work that is forbidden for a Jew to perform, may also not be performed by a gentile on our behalf.)
There are several exceptions to this rule (Shulchan Aruch HaRav ibid 8-11):
- Payments Included in Other Work
If one works on a job that includes Shabbat and weekday work, one may accept payment for the entire week (or month) as long as Shabbat is not mentioned or calculated separately. (Please note that we are only referring to work that is permissible on Shabbat such as babysitting, supervising a kosher kitchen, and the like.)
Such arrangements must all be made before Shabbat as one may not hire on Shabbat or discuss any payment on Shabbat (Shmirat Shabbat Kehilchato 28:58).
- Mitzvah Matters
Some say that one may receive payment (after Shabbat) for work done on Shabbat if the work was mitzvah work such as reading the Torah, praying as a Chazzan, or healing someone. The custom is to be lenient based on this opinion. “Nevertheless, even though license was granted for the sake of the mitzvah, all authorities agree that the person will never see a sign of blessing from these earnings since they are Shabbat earnings (ibid 11 based on Pesachim 50a).”
[See Orchot Chayim Spinka (quoted in Mishnah Berurah with Dirshu, ot 19) that the issue of not seeing a blessing from the wages is only relevant for wealthy people (who will be investing the money). But poor people who need the money for living expenses do not need a blessing in the money as they simply need to pay the bills.]
Even in the case of a mitzvah, it is forbidden to hire a person for this work on Shabbat. All arrangements must be made before Shabbat (Mishbetzot Zahav 306:4).
- Payment for Preparation
Some say (Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchato 28:61 based on various sources) that one may receive payment for work done on Shabbat if it involved preparation during the week as it is considered that he is being paid for both the preparation and the work. The job is therefore regarded to be a job that spans both Shabbat and the weekdays for which one is allowed to receive payment in one lump sum as mentioned above.
May we merit to be redeemed speedily in the merit of observing the Shabbat!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach and a Chodesh Tov!