Why should I work when the world is crumbling?

February 10th, 2016 Posted by Ask the Rabbi No Comment yet

Question:

Listening to you is one of the best things I did last year. You have introduced me to the issues of physical life along with spiritual life and how they go hand in hand. I battle with discouragement due to the bleak future of the economy and nation.

Can you offer some encouragement?  I want to set new goals and pursue them but I can’t help but think what’s the point.

∼ Eduardo

Answer:

Dear Eduardo,

A tale is told of a prisoner who is forced each day to transport painfully heavy rocks. He consoles himself by imagining the great building he is helping to build.  One day, a guard tells him that each night, his back-breaking work is undone as another prisoner has the job of moving the rocks back. Every day he merely undoes the back-breaking work of another prisoner. There is no purpose to the labor other than punishing and exhausting the two prisoners.

It is terribly debilitating to feel that one’s work is futile. The idea that we may work long hours to establish a business, reputation and savings but events around us may make us lose everything due to war, government breakdown or other crisis, is a depressing thought.

We need to counter that type of thinking. One benefit of faith is a belief that everything has a purpose. We should mourn lives and good works that end in untimely fashion, but neither the lives nor the work was in vain. There is a larger picture to which we are not privy. We are put on this earth for a purpose and we must strive each day to fulfill our task, whether in a personal or financial realm.

Obviously, we are obligated to stay alert and attempt to affect larger society for the good. Deciding to ignore clues as to what is going on in the world is silly. Yet, staying optimistic and giving our all to our work and the people around us is also an obligation. The fact that the final result may look different from what we hoped and expected doesn’t negate the value of what we did.

To give a quick hypothetical example: Imagine working insane hours to open a restaurant and an earthquake destroys the building the night before it is slated to open. Pretty devastating, isn’t it? Yet, the story behind the story shows that on the construction crew was a man whose salary enabled him to get married and have a baby. Years from now, that baby will grow up to start a company that benefits millions. The owner thought he was building a restaurant. In actuality, he was participating in the birth of a great man. He may never know the effects of his efforts in this world.

One person in this situation cries, mourns and starts rebuilding while another gives up and decides not to put effort towards anything ever again. Which man do you want to be?

 

Optimism isn’t blind; it is a choice,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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