Workers and Widows

Would you believe that right after I posted about receiving no calls, my phone rang? Now, they didn’t tell me I was amazing and they had to have me; they only called me back because of the borrowed respectability of DD’s reference, a good friend from college who works there now and kindly put in a good word for me.

Today I went in for an interview. A four and half hour interview. I actually really enjoyed the whole thing, although I did require a nap after fighting traffic home. I’ll probably gush about the company in a later post, (perhaps after I hear back from them. . . ) but for now I want to talk about other things.

In the car, I listened to a segment on Lawyer’s Guild about one of California’s Ballot initiatives, namely Prop 32. It’s been campaigned as “Stop Special Interest Money Now!” but callers on the show suggested that rather than stopping special interest money, the legislation would only take away power from the unions to efficiently gather money from workers to support campaigns and give a voice to workers. Now, I don’t feel entirely clear on how giving money to a campaign gives a voice to the giver, I don’t think democracy should mean paying to have a say, but apparently it does. And this legislation keeps unions and corporations from giving directly from the institution, but doesn’t keep owners of corporations from taking their share of the profits and then giving millions as a private citizen. The callers suggested that if this law were in place when folks were campaigning for 40 hour work weeks and other rights for workers, those laws wouldn’t have been passed.

Biblically, should we care about this?

For other reasons, I was reading this passage in Deuteronomy today. Chapter 24, 14-22
“You are not to exploit a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether one of your brothers or a foreigner living in your land in your town. You are to pay him his wages the day he earns them, before sunset; for he is poor and looks forward to being paid. Otherwise he will cry out against you to YHVH, and it will be your sin. Fathers are not to be executed for the children, nor are children to be executed for the fathers; every person will be executed for his own sin. You are not to deprive the foreigner or the orphan of the justice which is his due, and you are not to take a widow’s clothing as collateral for a loan. Rather, remember that you were a slave in Egypt; and YHVH your God redeemed you from there. That is why I am ordering you to do this. When harvesting the grain in your field, if you forgot a sheaf of grain there, you are not to go back and get it; it will remain there for the foreigner, the orphan and the widow, so that YHVH your God will bless you in all the work you do. When you beat your olive tree, you are not to go back over the branches again; the olives that are left will be for the foreigner, the orphan and the widow. When you gather the grapes from your vineyard, you are not to return and pick grapes a second time; what is left will be for the foreigner, the orphan and the widow. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt. That is why I am ordering you to do this.”

I think the rule in America is you must pay every two weeks. But this passage calls us to pay wages daily. Whether we follow this specific or not, the call that we are not to take advantage of workers is clear, and we have a responsibility to care for not only our neighbors, but “foreigners living in our land or town,” to see that they are treated fairly rather than exploited. Making this happen is very complex in our enormous and confusing system, and preserving a diversity of voices in government is a big part of legislating protection for poor or immigrant workers. If you’re voting in California, look into this and other initiatives at

Going back to the passage, it continues to talk about Reaping and Gleaning. When my mind wanders, I think about this concept and am fascinated by the repetitive admonition not to harvest every last bit from the fields. What does that look like in the modern day, when most of us aren’t very connected to farms?

I imagine that with cash, you could see change as a way to connect to this idea. For any purchase you make, less than a dollar comes back in coin. If someone asks for money, giving them the change in your pocket is like leaving the edges of field. (Kind of.) Now that I swipe for everything, I don’t often have change. I’m trying to figure out where in my life I can leave grapes so that they can be eaten by others.

An interesting project on kickstarter this week is The Gleanery, a group in Putnam, VT who has built relationships with farmers to take their unsold produce, which might otherwise become compost, and help it find mouths. “We are looking to purchase a commercial dehydrator, freezer, prep tables, smoker, pressure canner, food processor, and an ice cream maker: the tools of Gleaners,” their campaign explains. These aren’t the tools of the biblical Gleaners, who probably took as much as they could carry, likely enough for that day. . . but in the modern complexity of food systems, I would like to support an effort that works locally within a community to keep good food from going to waste, and feeding people in a way that is so much better than slopping “food” out of Sysco buckets onto plates, the way many camps, cheap restaurants, and soup kitchens do.

What do you think?


To Blog Or Not To Blog?

I feel like I should admit from the outset that I am conflicted about the notion of blogging. Back when blogs were a new phenomenon, I gazed gleefully down my nose at people who published their every thought on the internets. “How important do these people think they are?” I wondered, thrilled at my own humility. “Don’t they know that no one cares what they think?”

But then Twitter happened, so we’ve crossed that bridge and there’s no going back. It’s now socially acceptable to make a public announcement that you have switched shampoos. But this is a tired subject – many have lamented the lack of boundaries in our digital life. My concerns about blogging are of a different nature these days.

First, I worry that blogging cheapens the art of writing. I know how elitist and silly that sounds – it’s like saying that the advent of disposable cameras cheapens the art of photography. But increasingly, people seem to feel that the only purpose of language is to get your point across. As long as you know what I mean in the end, what’s the point of grammar? What’s the point of eloquence? Before blogging, the writing that made it into the public sphere had to be of a certain quality because it had to get past editors and publishers. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in ornaments of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). Beautiful language has intrinsic value. Let’s not forget about that.

My other concern is about the spiritual well-being of bloggers and tweeters and constant-Facebook-updaters themselves. Social media encourages my generation to express aloud our every thought to an audience of thousands, and we’ve gotten used to the immediate gratification that comes with having one’s opinions heard by so many people. What happens when we become dependent on the feeling of validation we get from all our friends hitting the “Like” button?

Some people will tell you that children need to learn to “self-soothe” so they can fall asleep. I think my generation needs to learn intellectual self-soothing. I worry that we have no inner life, no ability to validate our own thoughts and feelings, because we are so used to turning over our ideas, our daily schedules, our commentary on the day’s events to all our acquaintances for their approval.

I don’t know if there’s a solution to any of this, but I do know that as I make my first foray into self-publishing, I want to make an effort to do two things: first, I’ll try to edit myself well, to write posts that are worthwhile for my friends and family to read, posts that aren’t too self-indulgent. Second, I’ll work on putting into practice what Mesilas Yesharim calls hisbodedus – sitting quietly with Hashem and making an accounting of the day’s events, my failures and my accomplishments, my thoughts and feelings and concerns. If I have a rich inner dialogue with Hashem, perhaps I can avoid the emptiness of needing constant validation from others.


All words in italics can be found in the Glossary. 

Wait, what time is it?

Closing my laptop tonight, I realized I had spent the majority of the day on the computer. I started to sigh at myself, a slow breath of guilt for the wasted time, but realized I actually. . . I felt fulfilled.

This never happens to me.

In fact, my thesis work revolved around a notion of technology as divider rather than connector.

I’ve written pages and pages about the barren psychological landscape created by substituting screens for faces and allowing the keyboard to communicate instead of the wondrously subtle emotional expressions conveyed by facial muscles, body posture, physical presence.

I was shocked to find that when I reflected on my day, it was with a sense of satisfaction. It started with tea and email.

Return to the Knotted Cord

As a (very) recent college grad with, shall we say, flexible plans for the upcoming months before I leave for Israel, I rather wonder what to do with myself. Of course, there are the usual grand notions of waking up at 6:30 am to walk six miles through the park after davening all of Shacharis beautifully, then eating a healthful breakfast and breezing through a day of productivity and summery bliss… But I fancy myself a pragmatist, and not a dreamer, so I shall temper my delusions (“Once it’s June I just know I’ll be a morning person!”) with some goal-setting.

Simplicity is on my mind these days. I am hyper-aware of the absurd luxury in which I’ve lived as a college student: I’ve had few responsibilities and bushels of free time to fill with all kinds of nonsense. And it’s not just the excess of this lifestyle that irks me. I’ve grown and refined myself in many positive ways throughout my collegiate career, but much to my dismay I have also allowed myself to be sucked into the self-important egoism of academia. Higher education has many things to recommend it, but, as David Orr points out in this fantastic article, “…education is no guarantee of decency, prudence, or wisdom.” Intellectualism is a huge part of my identity, but I know that unless it’s tempered with humility and conscience, it becomes an exercise in arrogance, or worse.

“Let the people go back to tying knots to keep records,” the Dao De Jing suggests. “Let their food be savory, their clothes beautiful, their customs pleasurable, their dwellings secure.” Sounds good to me, except that the Dao De Jing also expounds on the evils of education and intellectualism. I’d like to think we can have it both ways – we can be philosophers without losing touch with reality, if only we remember this wisdom, from Proverbs (15:17):

טוב ארחת ירק ואהבה–שם משור אבוס ושנאה–בו

Better is a meal of greens, where love is, than a plump ox and hatred with it.

In other words, intellectualism for its own sake is pretty worthless. It’s worthless unless it comes in the service of love, for even simplicity with love is superior to extravagance without.

What’s that you say? I was supposed to be setting a pragmatic goal for the summer? Here it is: live simply. Enjoy my friends, eat fruit, take walks, do free things in the park, make things with my hands. Somehow I feel that through picking my own peaches, my eyes will be opened to the bounty of goodness with which God has blessed me, and I will simply know what to say in thanks.


All words in italics can be found in the Glossary.