In Parasat VaYishlach, perek 33, pasuk 17, the Torah tells us that Yaakov Aveenu built himself a house and he built for his cattle Succot (huts.) In fact, Yaakov Aveenu called that location Succot based on the huts he built for his cattle. So the Or HaChayim HaKadosh asks what is the significance of Yaakov’s construction of huts for the cattle, and why did he name the city after them?
The Or HaChayim HaKadosh writes that Yaakov was probably the first person to show such mercy to animals. Yaakov Aveenu went out of his way to build these huts and show to the people his special compassion he had for these animals. Yaakov Aveenu was teaching a very important lesson.
Yaakov Aveenu made a living from these animals, and the construction of these huts was an expression of respect and gratitude to them. These animals provided him with Parnasa (livelihood), and for that Yaakov was grateful and appreciative. So Yaakov in his actions is coming to teach us that we need to be thankful to the ones providing us with a livelihood.
Based on this we can understand a Pasuk later on in the Torah in Parashat VaYeshev when Yaakov tells his son Yoseph to go to Shechem and check on his brothers and on the sheep. Typically one would not understand Yaakov’s meaning or intent when he told Yoseph to check on the sheep. But based on the lesson above, we can now understand that Yaakov Aveenu was showing concern for the animals that were providing them with a livelihood. He wanted to Yoseph to make sure that the needs of the animals were being tended to. So again, we see Yaakov’s commitment to appreciation of those who provided him with a livelihood.
There is another episode in the end of Parashat Miketz that further teaches us about respecting our source of livelihood. Yoseph was being seduced by Potifar who was the wife of his employer. She tried again and again, but Yoseph did not succumb to it. Chachamim tell us that he gained the strength needed to fight the temptation and lure from the image of his father Yaakov. He remembered the lessons his father Yaakov taught him. Yaakov cared for his animals for they provided him with a livelihood. Yaakov built them huts and he had instructed Yoseph to see to their needs in Shechem. So Yoseph understood the importance of caring for the source of one’s livelihood. And Yoseph was therefore able to refrain from giving into temptation for he was grateful to Potifar, and would not disrespect Potifar by yielding to his wife.
The lesson we learn here is very significant. Yaakov Aveenu showed gratitude to his animals, so therefore we all the more so must show gratitude to those people who provide us with our livelihood. We see too many people complaining and expressing disrespect towards their employers. We must learn form the lessons of Yaakov. An employee must be grateful to his employer for providing him with a job and a pay check.