In these days of recession and job insecurity it is worth pondering the value our tradition places on work. Work is more than a way to earn money. Work gives meaning to our lives. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai teaches that just as we are commanded to rest on the Sabbath, we are commanded to work during the week.
The Talmud tells stories of leading rabbis who would take on extra work on their way to the house of study, to teach that “great is work, for it brings honour on those who engage in it”. In early generations it was considered improper for a rabbi to receive a salary for teaching Torah.
Great rabbis of Israel had a regular day job in addition to their role in the community. As for the unemployed or the idle rich, Rabbi Judah ben Bateira teaches that one who has no work should go out to an empty field or derelict building and “occupy himself with it”.
Work is important, but it is equally important to know how to stop. We all are familiar with people who are so passionate about their work that they neglect other important aspects of their lives.
Two French commentators try to define the inner state necessary to be able to rest. Commenting on the verse ,“and do all your work”, Rashi, aware that it is impossible to do all of one’s work, says that one should enter Shabbat as if all one’s work has been completed. Chizkuni says it is enough to have accomplished much to be able to rest. One doesn’t need to accomplish everything to be able to let go and feel the satisfaction that comes from having made a difference.
These are uncertain times. Many years ago our rabbis understood that a healthy work/life balance is important whatever the circumstances. This is no less true today.