Re’eh: Employer – Employee Relations

August 4, 2023

I employed someone in my company and laid him off due to financial circumstances. What responsibilities do I have towards him, aside from my contractual and legal obligations?

לקוטי שיחות חלק י”ט, פרשת ראה, שיחה ד’, עמ’ (153)

A. Compensating Freed Servants

In this week’s Torah reading, we learn about mitzvot applicable to indentured servants: When a servant goes free, their master must give them gifts, because G-d did so when He freed the Jews from Egypt (Source 1). The Sifri writes that G-d gifted them doubly: Once after leaving Egypt, and a second time after the splitting of the sea. This teaches us to give our servants a double portion as severance pay (Source 2). Maimonides codifies this as Jewish law in his writings, and specifies a minimum sum (Source 3).

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, the Rebbe’s father, cites an additional example in the Torah of a servant receiving severance pay—Joseph. Leaving prison, he was given expensive clothing and money by Pharaoh, the angel Gabriel taught him 70 languages, and Potiphar gave him his daughter’s hand in marriage (Source 4-7).

B. Why Compensate?

There are two ways of explaining the requirement to give a servant severance pay: (a) It is a scriptural decree that the master must give his servant an extra payment upon freeing him. (b) Alternatively, it’s a rational mitzvah, a form of charity, so that the servant should leave with good feelings. Elsewhere, the Rebbe explains that the servant’s freedom is complete only when they receive a gift, as this gives them the feeling of freedom (Source 8).

By juxtaposing the mitzvah of severance pay with the mitzvah of charity, Maimonides (Source 9) implies that he considers it is a form of charity. The scriptural verses also lend to that understanding, as this mitzvah is juxtaposed with the mitzvah of charity (Source 10).

C. Modern-day severance

Citing the Chinuch, who maintains that the mitzvah of severance pay is still applicable in modern times to employees, the Rebbe called for paying severance today as well. No matter how long they were employed for or how satisfied the employer was with their work, they must be given a gift that allows them to leave with positive feelings.



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