work hard but not too hard

Friday, 8 January, 2021 - 7:32 am

The man had a medical consultation business. He had young children at home. He worked hard and earned well, but one day he complained to me that he barely sees the children. His office is open until 6:00 in the evening, and by the time he gets home the house is in disarray, the tired children are on their way to bed, and the wife, too, is in disarray and exhausted as well.

“So stop working at 5:00,” I told him.

“One less hour in the office,” he replied, “means much less money per month.”

“So try it for just one month,” I suggested.

He agreed, and this month has lasted ten years. For ten years he has been coming home at a time when he can still spend time with his family, see and be seen, and sometimes even tell a bedtime story to the little ones.

Why was I reminded of this anecdote?

Because the Rebbe learns from this week’s Parasha a similar and very interesting lesson. It says in the Torah about the Egyptians that they “embittered the lives” of Bnei Yisrael. The Rebbe explains that that means giving them work that had no limit and purpose. A person is willing to work hard if he knows that a) the work will come to an end at some point, and b) that it is useful. Purposeless work is unimaginable torture – it embitters one’s life.

The Rebbe, in his talk on one of the nights of Pesach of the year 1959 (5719), spoke of the relevance of this to the life of every Jew. Work must have its limits. A person has to go out and provide a livelihood for his family, but he shouldn’t be totally immersed in it every day, all day. There are other, much more important things in our lives that are, indeed, the reason we go out, exert ourselves and labor away. There are the family and children; one’s spiritual life; there are Torah and Mitzvot, and there is the holy Neshama (soul) that would like some of our time and attention.

One should find time for daily Torah learning, praying and doing acts of Chessed, and, of course, one should spend time with the family and children when they are still awake and alert.

So when we read and learn of how the Egyptians embittered the lives of our forefathers in Egypt, we ought to check and see whether we are perhaps embittering our own lives…

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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