By Rabbi Michael Werbow
Special to WJW
This week’s Torah portion is Mishpatim, Exodus 21:1 – 24:18.
Sometimes something is too good to be true. When something is too easy we may not value it as we should. I recall a TV show that gave someone the task of handing out $20 bills to people passing by on the street. No one wanted to take them from him. They were all wary of the fact that he was trying to hand them money with no strings attached.
In Mishpatim, we find rules that if someone steals an ox they must pay back five times its worth, and if they steal a sheep then the fine is four times. This is in contrast to what happens when someone steals a general object. In that case the thief needs to return the object plus a fine of the value of the object.
Why should the theft of an ox or sheep be penalized more? We are told this is because sheep and oxen were often out grazing far from the watchful eye of their owner. Since the animals would be prime targets for theft, there was a greater fine imposed on those who carried out such actions. In a weird sort of way a thief is rewarded for trying harder. The reward is the lower penalty imposed if caught.
It is natural to find reward in doing hard work. When we face a challenge and put in the effort to surmount that challenge we feel good about ourselves. We have pride in our work and our work may even be recognized by others. If we know that we took a shortcut, and that we don’t really deserve the credit or the praise, then our internal reward is much less.
Not only is it important to have pride in our work and to feel good about the effort we put into our tasks, we should pass some of those good vibes onto others as well. We often take the efforts of others for granted. Most often this is true for services we use on a regular basis but don’t recognize those providing them.
The list for each of us is long and varied, but think for a moment about the interactions you have every day with people that zip in and out of your life without much recognition for the job they have done. Who do you pass by in the hall every day without whom you might not even be able to do your job? Who provides a service that is integral to you having basic needs for you and your family?
During the pandemic these people, the ones who are always there but whom we might not always recognize, have been brought to the forefront of our minds. We will be well served if we keep them in mind even when the pandemic subsides. All of these people deserve extra thanks. All of these people put in the extra effort to do their jobs and enhance our lives. Don’t take the easy way out. Show that you value the effort others make and give some praise or thanks. They will be happy you did.
Rabbi Michael Werbow is rabbi of Tifereth Israel Congregation in the District.