Severance Pay: Giving severance pay to your employees, and releasing the secrets of your success to your students, and children
(Likkutei Sichos 19 Parshas Rei Sicha 4)
In this week’s Parsha, Parshas Rei’i, the Torah speaks of the Mitzvah of giving severance pay to a Hebrew slave when he is emancipated after his six years of service. When the Sefer Hachinuch records this Mitzvah, he explains that there is an ethical lesson that can be learned from it, which is that an employer should provide his employee with a severance package at the time of termination of his employment. The Minchas Chinuch questions this lesson by stating that it only applies according to a certain opinion in the Talmud, and thus is not Halachically binding. In this Sicha, the Rebbe delves into explaining and defending the opinion of the Sefer Hachinuch, and as to how his lesson indeed applies according to all opinions. To understand this matter, the Rebbe analyzes the reason behind the Mitzvah to give severance pay to a Hebrew slave and as to why according to some opinions there’s a difference between a court sold Hebrew slave versus an independently sold slave. The lesson derived from this talk stretches from the subject of employer and employee relationship, to the subject of teacher and student, and gives a bright new perspective as to the responsibility of a teacher over his student.
Explorations of the Sicha:
1. Why does the Torah command us to give a severance payment to a Hebrew slave upon his emancipation?
2. Must one give a severance payment to even a Hebrew slave who independently sold himself into the slavery?
3. According to Torah perspective, must or should an employer give a severance package to his employee?
4. Is the responsibility of a teacher have to his student limited to the learning subject at hand, or doesn’t go beyond it and require an essential connection between student and teacher?
1. The Mitzvah to give a severance package to a Hebrew slave upon his emancipation and the lesson learned regarding an employer and employee:
Regarding the Mitzvah of Hanakah [i.e. severance pay] that a master of a Hebrew slave is obligated to provide for his slave at the time of emancipation, it states the following in the Sefer Hachinuch: This command of providing a severance package to the emancipated Hebrew slave only applies during times that the Jubilee year is in practice. This is because the legality of Hebrew slaves is only valid during times that the Jubilee year is in practice. Nonetheless, says the Sefer Hachinuch, although the Mitzvah is only applicable in the above-mentioned time, there is a lesson that can be learned from it regarding all times, even today when the Jubilee year is not in practice. In his words: “A wise man hears and derives a lesson [from the above command]. The lesson that can be learned is that if one hires a Jewish employee, who has worked for him for a long time, or even a short amount of time, then when his work is terminated, the employer should give him a severance payment from the wealth that G-d has blessed him with.”
2. The opinion of the Minchas Chinuch that not everyone agrees to the above:
The Minchas Chinuch in his commentary on the above Mitzvah in the Sefer Hachinuch explains that the novelty of the Sefer Hachinuch [that even today one can derive a lesson to give a severance package to a terminated employee], in truth only applies according to one opinion in the Talmud.
There is a dispute in the Talmud regarding the type of Hebrew slave that the severance pay is required to be given to upon emancipation. According to the opinion of Rebbe Eliezer, severance pay must be given to all types of Hebrew slaves upon emancipation, whether the Hebrew slave was sold by a Beis Din in order to pay off his debts which were incurred due to stealing, or whether he sold himself independently in order to make an income. However, according to the Tana Kama, the severance pay is only commanded to be given to a slave who was sold by Beis Din, and is not necessary to be given to a slave who sold himself independently. They learn this from the verse regarding a court sold Hebrew slave which states, “Hanik Tanik Lo/you shall give him severance pay.” They derive from the word “him” that it is coming to exclude a Hebrew slave that sold himself independently, that he is not required to be given a severance package upon emancipation.
Now, the Minchas Chinuch explains that the above good lesson of giving severance pay to employees upon termination of employment, is only in accordance to the opinion of Rebbe Eliezer who holds there is no difference between the various type of Hebrew slaves. According to his opinion, one can say that the reason the Torah obligated a severance package to be given to the slave is as an act of kindness and gratitude from the master for the good work that he did as a slave. It is according to this approach and understanding that there is room to also learn that every employer should likewise treat his employee the same way and give him a severance package. However, according to the opinion of the Tana Kama who holds that the command of giving a severance payment is only to the court sold Hebrew slave, as the Talmud learns from a special verse in Scripture, then there is no reason to learn that this obligation is due to a moral and ethical principle. Rather, it is simply a decree of the verse, as otherwise why would the verse exclude giving the severance package to the Hebrew slave who independently sold himself into slavery. Accordingly, the command dealing with the Mitzvah of Hanakah, cannot teach us any lesson in our times, and the giving of a severance package to an employee has no root in this Mitzvah, according to this opinion of the Tana Kama. Thus, according to the Minchas Chinuch, the above ruling of the Chinuch is not Halachically binding, as we rule like Tana Kama, and there is no need to give severance pay even as a good gesture.
Nonetheless, the Minchas Chinuch concludes with the following question: It is not usual for the Chinuch to swerve from the opinion of the Rambam. Now, the Rambam rules like the opinion of the Tana Kama, that severance payment must only be given to a court sold Hebrew slave, and hence, questions the Minchas Chinuch, why does the Chinuch conclude with a novelty that does not apply according to this opinion?
3. The reason that one who sells himself as a slave does not merit to receive severance pay:
To answer the above question of the Minchas Chinuch we must first inquire as to why according to the Tana Kama, the Mitzvah of Hanakah only applies to a court sold Hebrew slave and not to a slave who sold himself independently. This can be explained in one of two ways:
- The entire idea of giving a severance package to a slave upon his emancipation is a great novelty which was novelized by the Torah’s command. Now, since the Torah only mentions this requirement regarding a court sold Hebrew slave, therefore it consequently does not apply to a slave who sold himself independently, as whenever there is a novel ruling, it must be mentioned in each case that it applies to it and cannot be assumed to apply as a rule. According to this understanding, indeed there is no room to learn that even today there is a Mitzvah for the employer to give a severance package to his employee upon termination of employment.
- The idea of giving a severance package to a slave upon his emancipation is really a matter of common sense, and a consequence of proper moral and ethical behavior. Hence, logic dictates that all slaves should receive a severance package upon emancipation, whether they were independently sold or sold by a court. Why then does the Tana Kama hold that only the court sold Hebrew slave receive it? This is due to the above word “Lo/to him” from the verse, which teaches us that the independently sold slave is excluded from receiving this payment. According to this approach, it ends up that even according to the opinion of the Tana Kama we can still learn the moral and ethical lesson of giving a severance package to an employee upon his termination of employment.
4. Even according to the Rambam, one should give severance pay to an employee:
Based on the above explanation, we can answer the question of the Minchas Chinuch against the Chinuch, whom he claimed had swerved from the opinion of the Rambam in this regard. In truth, based on the second explanation above, one can explain that the Chinuch does not contradict the Rambam at all and rather holds that even according to the Rambam and the Tana Kama, an ethical lesson can be derived from the above law of Hanakah and can be applied likewise to an employee.
5. The reason behind the Mitzvah of severance pay:
To understand this matter little deeper, we will now inquire as to the ethical reason behind severance pay, which can be explained in one of two ways:
- An act of payment: One approach of understanding is that severance pay is not charity but rather payment for the slaves work. According to this understanding, the entire idea of severance pay to a slave is a novelty being that he was already paid in full for his service, and hence this extra payment cannot be considered a given fact that applies to all slaves. Accordingly, since the Torah only stated this obligation regarding the court sold Hebrew slave, therefore it does not apply to any other slave or to an employee, as we explained in the first approach in the opinion of the Tana Kama.
- An act of charity: Another approach is that severance pay is considered an act of charity and kindness from the master to a slave and is given as a sense of gratitude for his work. According to this understanding, we should automatically assume that all slaves deserve to receive severance pay, and it is only due to the exclusion of the verse that we hold that an independently sold slave does not receive severance pay. Accordingly, we should learn a moral lesson from that an employer should give his employee a severance package as a sign of gratitude upon termination of his work.
6. The opinion of the Rambam on the above:
We find something quite interesting in the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvah’s. This Mitzvah of Hanakah is not written together with all the other commands relating to slaves, and is rather written immediately after the Mitzvah of giving charity. This seems to imply that in the Rambam’s view, the Mitzvah of Hanakah is due to charity and gratitude as explained in the second approach above. Accordingly, we have proven that the Rambam holds that even according to the Tana Kama who holds that the Mitzvah of Hanakah only applies to a court sold Hebrew slave, we can still derive the ethical lesson of giving an employee a severance package as a sign of gratitude for his service.
7. The practical directive-To give severance pay to an employee at the termination of his work:
Based on the above clarification [that it is possible that according to all opinions a moral lesson of giving severance pay to an employee can be derived from the Mitzvah of Hanakah], it is proper to publicize the following matter for people to learn to follow:
One who hires an employee to work by him for certain amount of time, and the term of his employment has come to an end, and certainly if he fires him before the term is up, then the employer should give this employee a severance payment as charity and as a gesture of gratitude for the work he received. This applies irrelevant of the amount of time that the employee worked by the employer, whether it be a long time or a short time. It likewise applies even if the employer was not satisfied with the work of his employee, and it is for this reason that he terminated his employment. It certainly applies if he fired his employee simply because he has enough workers to do the job that he needs. It, however, does not apply when the worker quits his job early. Even if the employee agreed to forgo his severance pay, nevertheless, the employer is to pay him.
How much to give:
The employer is to give the employee severance pay commensurate to the amount of time he worked for him. If the employer’s business became successful due to the work of the employee, it is proper to give him a larger severance pay, in accordance to the benefit the business received. Money’s that are rightfully owed to the employee, due to salary bonuses and the like, are not to be deducted from the severance payment, and the severance payment is to be in addition to it.
8. The Divine lesson between a teacher and student, and Shliach and Mekurav:
The above concept and lesson of severance pay can be followed likewise in the student and teacher relationship. The job of a Rebbe is to impart to his student’s intellectual information. The Rebbe provides the student with the depth and clarity that he himself has in the subject. This, however, does not suffice, as while in that set subject the student may now acquire similar depth and understanding to that of his teacher, he does not acquire any independence of his own. In other words, while a teacher is meant to impart his student with expertise in the given learning subject, he is not required to impart him with the methods that provide him the ability to independently learn other subjects of his choosing in the same depth and style. It is here that comes the lesson of Hanakah also regarding the student-teacher relationship, that a teacher should go above and beyond his basic responsibilities of imparting knowledge to students, and place the effort to impart his students with the depth of his intellect and style of learning
A similar lesson can be learned regarding what a Shliach, or other individual who works in Kiruv, is to impart upon his subjects who are quite far and distanced in their observance. A person may think that since he is anyway so far and distanced from Judaism that therefore it suffices to teach him the basics, and there is no need to teach him the more advanced aspects that are not yet relevant to him. From the above lesson we learn that this form of education does not suffice and that the teacher must escort his student to the point that he reaches the maximum level of piety as held by his teacher.
9. Meriting to receive severance pay from G-d:
Just as G-d commands us to give our employees a severance package as a gesture of charity and gratitude in addition to the payment that he is set to receive, so too, each Jew at the end of the exile in the time of the seventh millennium will receive a severance package from G-d which is above and beyond the actual reward that he is earned through his service of G-d in this world.
The divine lesson:
· While the lesson of the Sicha is explicitly spelled out by the Rebbe, its application may remain obscure to some. Most people have not merited to start a business and have employees, and hence may think that this talk is not relevant to them. However, in truth we can find points and lessons that apply to everyone.
o Babysitters: If a couple had a set babysitter for some time, even for only a few jobs, if that babysitters job becomes terminated for whatever reason, then they should give the babysitter an extra sum of money as a sign of gratitude.
o Shluchim helpers: Bochurim and Bachuros who travel for a year experience of Shlichus to help a Beis Chabad with their families and activities should be provided a severance package from their Shluchim at the termination of their assistance.
o Housemaid: A Jewish housemaid whose work has been terminated for whatever reason, should be given severance payment.
o Mosdos: Employees of various Torah institutions are to be given a severance payment at the end of their employment. This applies whether to a Yeshiva, Chesed organization, Shul, and any matter of the like.
The Rebbetzin passed away in 1988 and her house workers were no longer needed. That same day, the Rebbe directed that the workers be told that their job is terminated, and that they be given their salary in full together with severance pay. The Rebbe assured that the workers be paid in full prior to the funeral, and that doing so would be a merit for her soul.
 Kiddushin 14b
 Hilchos Avadim 3:12
 Likkutei Sichos ibid, as a slave who ran away is not given Hanaka. [Kiddushin 16b] However, see Minchas Yitzchak ibid regarding a case that the employer quit due to delayed pay, and that some severance pay should be given
 Igros Kodesh 14:404, printed in Shulchan Menachem 7:82
 Yoman 1988, brought in Shulchan Menachem ibid