Posts Tagged 'Work'

Between Toil and Work: Meaning Making in Our Effort

commercial from the Dutch mail-order pharmacy Doc Morris has left the internet in tears by showing the reason behind a grandfather’s drive to get in shape for Christmas with his family. What would inspired this elderly man to take on this bizzare fitness regimen with a rusty old kettlebell? Everyone thought he has gone crazy. Why would he be exercising at his age? And why these exercises? It seemed pointless until the end. It is worth a watch:

Watching this I got thinking about the end of Shmot, last week’s Torah portion. There we see the Israelites are enslaved to Pharaoh working tireless in his building projects. Moshe shows up to liberate them from their back breaking work. He asks Pharaoh to let them go three days into the wilderness and sacrifice to God, lest God fall upon them with pestilence or the sword. Pharaoh asked them why they caused the people to rest from their work, and commanded that the taskmasters lay heavier work on them and no longer give them straw to make brick but force them to go and gather straw for themselves to make the same quota of bricks. (Exodus 5: 4-11) The people scattered to gather straw, and the taskmasters beat the Israelite officers, asking why they had not fulfilled the quota of brick production as before.

The Israelites cried to Pharaoh, asking why he dealt so harshly with his servants, but he said that they were idle if they had time to ask to go and sacrifice to God. So the officers met Moshe and Aaron as they came from meeting Pharaoh and accused them of making the Israelites to be abhorrent to Pharaoh. There we read, “May the Lord look upon you and punish you for making us loathsome to Pharaoh and his courtiers—putting a sword in their hands to slay us.” (Exodus 5:21) Why are they yelling at Moshe? He was there to liberate them?

Now that Moshe has fomented a revolution- Pharaoh removed the resources needed for the slaved to do their work. Without the straw they needed they are left making crappy bricks. Even as slaves they had a job to do work. Even if they were not valued as human beings, they were the builders of great building. The could take pride in the quality of their work. The hatred to Moshe is because they could not longer see any value of their effort. Slavery was awful, but at the least the had value in their work. Without the needed resources their work was now just toil.

But was that the case? We see later as the Israelites were crossing the Red Sea a different image. They were marching through the mud as the Egyptians were coming for them in their chariots. We know that they water consumed the Egyptians, but how did the Israelited know how to walk across the mud?

All of those years building bricks, even if it was not yielding high quality bricks prepared them for this moment. It was not toil, it was training in how to use their legs to walk through mud. Just as this in the Song of the Sea Moshe says, “In Your great triumph You break Your opponents; You send forth Your fury, it consumes them like straw.” ( Exodus 15: 7) The slaves were no longer “loathsome to Pharaoh” due to their lack of straw to do quality work. What was perceived as pointless toil who lost hope in their own value redeemed their years of servitude. It is not just that they were liberated as people, their effort itself was redeemed. Like the grandfather in the commercial, what was seen as useless toil was actually very holy work of using our to time meaningfully. It is quoted in the name of Bobby Darin, “It isn’t true that you live only once. You only die once. You live lots of times if you know how.” May we all find meaning in our work and live every day with pride, purpose, and dignity.


Work Life Balance

At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, we read,

God spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron’s two sons, when they approached before God, and they died. And God said to Moses: Speak to Aaron, your brother- he shall not come at all times into the Sanctuary, within the Curtain, in front of the Curtain, in front of the Cover that is upon the Ark, so that he should not die; for in a cloud will I appear upon the Ark- cover. (Leviticus 16:1-3)

It seems logical to read this as an explanation for the death of Aaron’s sons. Nadav and Avihu  must have approached the special space at the wrong time. Or does it mean something else?

Seeing that Adina and I are coming up to our 10th wedding anniversary it must have been a decade since my mother gave me the per-wedding-advice talk. One thing I remember clearly is her suggestion that we should never go to sleep angry. In light of this wisdom I might offer another interpretation of this section of our Torah portion. I imagine that Moses was giving Aaron advice on how to do his job. Do not try to do your work , which is representing the people in their relating to God, when you are angry at God.

It is hard to just let things go or to actually deal with the issues when we are tired.  And worse than either of these options is to make-believe that there are no issues. We cannot just sleep these issues away. If Aaron was angry at God for the death of his sons ( which he should have been) then he should not try just to work through the pain. That is just unhealthy.

This is a challenge to many of  our lives. It is hard having a professional life separate from one’s personal life. If one is passionate about his/her work there is always a part of this work that is personal. This runs the risk of leading to a lot of drama at work. The answer for many people is to make a clear line between their personal and professional lives.  I think we can learn from Aaron that this is not always possible. To achieve deep satisfaction in our places of work we have to be open to the risk of being hurt personally. What is the other choice? If we live our lives with purpose we might even find a deep encounter with God in our places of work.

But maybe this is an over statement.  I realize that we all need balance. As much as I love my work, I also know that I get my love at home.  That seems healthy.


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