Parasha Shoftim

Some of the people I admire most are working class people. There is the waitress who serves you with a smile after standing on her feet for eight hours; the short –order cook who labors in a hot kitchen to bring you your food; the highway construction worker who performs back-breaking work in the heat of summer to make our roads safe to drive on; the factory worker sitting for hour upon hour in front of a machine to manufacture the products that we buy; the hotel maid who cleans up after us in the morning. I suspect I would not last too long doing what they are doing day in and day out. Yet, despite their low wages, they perform their work with consummate skill, with determination to do a good job, with professionalism and often with a smile on their faces.  They are real heroes to me.
One service worker stood out to me this summer. This past June Middy and I attended a Saturday night wedding of a cousin in Baltimore. On Sunday afternoon we decided to do to a Baltimore Orioles baseball game. We checked out of our room and left our luggage with the hotel. After the game we returned to retrieve it and proceed with our trip. 
Imaging our shock when the bell hop could not find one of our suitcases in the luggage holding area! He searched high and low, but our suitcase was not there. Our main preoccupation was that all Middy’s identifications were in that luggage. She thought taking them to the baseball park was risky. How was she going to fly home without identification!? My first thought – I am not giving you a tip! But this bell hop, in his late twenties, and in a very patient and reassuring way, basically held our hands while the hotel manager tried to track our luggage down. His kindness and understand were truly amazing. He assured us that the luggage would be found. Middy asked him to look again. He did, but could not find it. She asked to accompany him while he looked yet again. He patiently brought her into the luggage room and searched once more. This young man went above and beyond his job as a bell hop! The luggage was eventually found – it was in the trunk of another car that was now 50 miles away. A taxi was sent to retrieve it for us. The enduring impression of this episode was not the loss of our luggage but the kindness and compassion shown to us by the bell hop.  I don’t really know how he felt doing a job that most of us would consider a lowly one. But, he did his job excellently and with such caring and professionalism. And yes, I did give him a big tip!
Consider the story of another young man. This young man, from a well off family, had attended the finest private high school in his area and graduated from the business school of a prestigious university. Upon graduation he accepted a job on Wall Street. He wasn’t sure he would like this job as it was not in his area of interest, but, with jobs scarce at the time, he felt he better take it. He soon found out this job was not a good match for him. He began to come in to work late. He began to gripe about his boss.  And he began to turn in shoddy work. He thought to himself that he would stay at this job until January 3, collect the big Wall Street bonus that he was expecting at that time, and then quit to find other work. Someone else was thinking along those same lines. In mid-December he was called into his boss’ office and fired!
The first young man is from a poor background doing a menial job with real enthusiasm. The second young man is from a privileged background, in a prestigious job, but turning in a lackadaisical performance.  Our Torah reading for this week has something to say regarding both of them.  Here is the setting. Moses is bidding farewell to the Israelites. He will not be leading them into the Promised Land.  In a series of final addresses, Moses gives the Israelites laws that they will need in to build a successful society in the Land of Israel. Of course this includes setting up a system of justice.  Our parasha opens with the words, “Judges and constables you shall appoint at all of your entrances.” The plain meaning of this text is that in order to develop a judicial system, one needs to appoint magistrates to decide how to apply the law, and constables – a police presence – to enforce it. A Chassidic teaching reads this verse —  “Judges and constables you shall appoint at all of your entrances” — in a psychological way. For all of the decisions we enter into, for all of the plans that enter our minds, in all doors of life that we are about to enter, we should appoint judges and constables for ourselves. We should consider well, examine the pros and cons, set up judges inside of us to consider our options carefully and to minimize the likelihood of our making a mistake. We should have the strength to follow through, to appoint constables inside ourselves as this will help us to fulfill the plans we deem beneficial. Many a good intention and fine decision goes by the wayside due to a lack of strength and a weakness of will in carrying through on it.
So when we walk through the various doors of our lives, when we enter into new endeavors, including when it comes to work, we need to have those inner judges to guide our decisions and have inner constables, our inner voices, so to speak, to enforce our will to carry through. When it comes to choices about work, if we decide to take a job, we should give it our all.  Whether the work is lowly or exalted, we need to find the strength to do it well – like the waitress, the cook, the construction worker, the maid –the bell-hop. This weekend, as we observe Labor Day, let us salute all the working people who labor in their jobs with pride and with conviction, who find the strength to rise each morning and do their jobs well, to the benefit of us all.   Shabbat Shalom