I have worked in many different offices and organizations in my career as a rabbi and educator. One of the universal truths I’ve learned from working in different organizational environments is that the people determine the mood and attitude of the office more than the work itself. And this general atmosphere effects productivity too because the morale of an office can change the quality of work people do and their satisfaction while doing it.
When I was in my Masters in Education program, we spoke a lot about the culture of the place and how happy teachers resulted in happy students. As an administrator and a rabbi, part of my job is to make sure that staff members feel appreciated and respected. That goes a long way to making sure the work gets done and the team works together.
This is a lesson not lost on the Israelites in the Torah. This week, Parshat Ki Teitzei shares a number of laws to govern society. We receive laws about war and taking care of hostages, laws about our clothing, laws about family relationships between parents and children, laws about taking care of the poor, and so much more. Ki Teitzei is actually the Torah portion with the most number of mitzvot within it, but the recurring theme is the desire and ways in which we should execute the mitzvot prescribed to us.
Towards the end of the parshah we receive a list of miscellaneous laws. They talk about a variety of potential situations, like asylum for escaped slaves, lending at interest, and prostitution. One that stuck out to me was the sanctity of military camps. When you think of a nation’s military, you don’t often think of a holy or sanctified space. And yet, the Torah teaches in chapter 23, verse 15: “Since the Lord your God moves about in your camp to protect you and to deliver your enemies to you, let your camp be holy; let Him not find anything unseemly among you and turn away from you.”
Clearly, a military needs to work as a well-oiled machine with unified vision and purpose. Their mission must be explicitly defined, and most importantly, according to the Torah, there should be an atmosphere of respect. The work environment determines their success.
Parshat Ki Teitzei suggests that when we go out into the world to join forces with others working for common goals, we must do it with purpose and lead those around us to a place of sacred partnership. Building a team of any kind requires establishing a collaborative purpose, vision, and mission. The Torah reminds us that when we have this, morale is high, productivity evident, and outcomes incredible.