Work So You Can Work

You do it.  I do it.  We all do it. We find ways to avoid doing those tasks in our lives that will really make a difference.  They might be unpleasant, hard, boring, perhaps even frightening.  Often, they are the very ones we have to identify and tackle.

There’s the aspiring sales professional who does almost everything except the one task that will make most difference in his life—completing his quota of calls every single day.

There are the parents whose toddler is getting out of control.  The time is overdue to introduce him to the wonderful world of discipline.  They’ve let things go for a bit too long and now every attempt to introduce boundaries and insist on appropriate behavior is met with tantrums.  The parents focus on good nutrition and creative play times—anything in fact, in order to avoid doing the one great task that will make the most difference in their lives and that of their child.

There’s the student who dreams of playing at Carnegie Hall. She needs to sit down, play the same piece repeatedly, and start the cycle again with a more difficult piece.

The Lord’s language has a word for an activity which might be staggeringly difficult to confront but which also might be the single most important assignment for any given moment of our lives.

That word is AVoDaH and one revealing example of its usage is this:

And they (the Egyptians) embittered their (the Israelites) lives with hard work,
with mortar and bricks, and with all
work in the field;
all their
work at which they worked them was with harshness.
(Exodus 1:14)

Every instance of the word ‘work’ in that verse, employs the Hebrew word AVoDaH. It suggests subjugation and servitude and certainly doesn’t sound like a positive word. It actually sounds like something you desperately want to avoid.

Don’t be too quick to jump to that conclusion. Let’s learn another Hebrew word for work – MeLaCHaH. Understanding it will make all the difference.

We find both words for work combined in the Fourth Commandment, instructing us to remember the Sabbath day.

Six days shall you work(AVoDaH) and do all your work (MeLaCHaH)…
Exodus 20:9

Why do we need both words? God is giving us a tremendously significant message. MeLaCHaH is the creative work that transforms our world and uplifts our lives, while AVoDaH is work that lacks that exciting element. Yet we do not get to do MeLaCHaH if we don’t first do our AVoDaH.

Life in Egypt was tough precisely because slaves have only AVoDaH with no possibility of MeLaCHaHIf you have AVoDaH without hope of it leading to anything greater, any form of MeLaCHaH,  it can indeed be an arduous ordeal. But don’t dream that you can enjoy MeLaCHaH without Avodah. Integrating the two types of work makes everything possible.

There is little as exciting as seeing one’s toddler blossom into a responsible youth and thriving adult with whom you share a close relationship. Achieving that requires many hours of consistent and sometimes unpleasant parenting (along with much prayer and blessing).

Making the big sale is thrilling. Hours of application, hard work, disappointment and dedication precede the excitement. Playing to a full house is thrilling, but years of perseverance lead to that moment.

Fortunately, we don’t need to wait years for the fulfillment of MeLaCHaH. Each of our days—and as the Fourth Commandment reveals, our weeks—holds both types of work. However, we do best knowing that the way the world really works, we should tackle the mundane and difficult with zest, for without it we will never achieve MeLaCHaH. We should rejoice in AVoDaH rather than resenting it.

reprinted from January 2013

15 thoughts on “Work So You Can Work”

  1. Hello Rabbi, I have found work that I really enjoy in another field and the work I currently do drains the life out of me. What is your advice on switching careers/field of work to something one finds easy to excel in? I love your book and I am trying to follow the principle of treating my employer as my customer but its so hard in my current job because I am not enjoying it. Look forward to hearing from you. Thanks

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear John,
      You don’t say how long you’ve been in your current unenjoyable position. If less than a year, I discourage a move. Enjoyment of work grows with time, increasing competence, and appreciation. You also don’t mention the comparative remuneration. To move from a higher to a lower paying position is unwise for other than older and financially established people. So, in short, I don’t know enough about your circumstances to offer meaningful advice. Think it through carefully. With your head!

      1. Thanks for your quick reply Rabbi.

        I have been in my job for 4 years now. I am 30 married (5 years) without kids, and I am thinking of starting a digital marketing business fulltime. This means no pay for the next year and depending on my wife financially while getting the business on the road. It’s not logical at all but I feel far from motivated to excel in my current job as a management consultant. I also feel I could be achieving so much more in the digital marketing space and I am more driven in that space when doing it part time but my current job is quite draining and slowing me down. Right now (after arguing with my wife – she is not having it) I have settled to keep working until the part-time business generates as much money as my paycheck. However, I am split between 2 masters and I like my business more even though it’s not profitable yet.

  2. Thank you Darin–
    Nothing in the education granted to American youngsters in K-12 GICs (Government Indoctrination Camps) prepares them to cope in the real world. They are given no understanding of money and how it is made; no understanding of the character strength needed to succeed, and no understanding of how human relationships both sexual and non-sexual work.
    Discipline and desire are part of that of course

  3. Thought tool indeed! Great post Rabbi. As one whose business employs folks proficient in their trade, your post reminds me of the many who are so talented in their craft, yet lack the discipline or desire to do the “paper work” that would monetize the worth of their skill. Thank You for your biblical insights!

  4. The post is certainly fantastic. I just got to know about Rabbi Daniel and I must confess the book THOUS SHALL PROSPER as given me a great shift in my paradigm. I am certainly going to learn a lot in the years to come from RDL

    1. Thank you Kunle Adetunmbi
      I hope the ancient Jewish wisdom you learn from me utterly transforms your financial destiny to immeasurable abundance.

  5. Thank you for this.
    It is kind of related wanting rights and not the responsibilities that go along with them. What does Jewish wisdom have for those terms?

    1. Interestingly enough, Luis, Hebrew has no word for adolescent which of course is someone who wants all the privileges of adulthood while accepting none of its responsibilities. As you say.

  6. Your title for this essay reminded me of the day when I was 14 when I suddenly became horrified to realize that life was nothing more than “go to work at a job you hate so you can put a roof over your head, eat, and buy clothes acceptable to your bosses and coworkers, then go to bed each night only to get up the next day to go to work at a job you hate…” ad infinitum until you die and are finally released from the nothingness of life into the nothingness of death. (Whether there’s an afterlife is not the point, of course when you are 14 and looking ahead to 50 or 60 years of complete meaninglessness.)

    I am now 60 and know that the problem was the way I was raised. I was the oldest and my parents were extremely strict and had very definite ideas about what I should do, say and even think. THEY would decide where I would go to school, what career I would have, and who I would associate with.

    Fortunately, they are long dead and I no longer have the hopelessness they input into me. However, your explanations of Hebrew words and their use in the Torah always focus me and help me find the meaning in life that was always there yet I was not allowed to see.

    Thank you once again for a great essay.

    1. Dear Laura–
      I was sad that you were unable to escape that baleful view of life until after your parents had passed. Parents carry a colossal responsibility to imbue a meaningful world view in their children. But for all they do or fail to do, we all have the primary responsibility for our own happiness and fulfillment.
      Sounds as if you’ve made it.

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