Thursday, March 3, 2011

Pekudei: Feeling Commanded To Do A Good Job?

How hard is it to get a job done right??? I recently discovered that this is a very central question in this week's Torah portion. In this concluding section of the Book of Exodus, we learn about the final instructions to Moses to build the Tabernacle, and Moses gives an account of all the material that was collected from every Israelite for the project. As I was sitting in morning minyan this week, something in our parasha caught my eye.

We are told that Moses built such-and-such or commissioned so-and-so to create this or that doohickey (technical term in the Bible... obviously), and that he did so according to God's instructions. And then we hear the very logical statement, "[He built it] just as the Lord had commanded Moses." Makes sense, right? But what caught my eye is that we hear this exact same phrase NINETEEN times, in only 2 chapters! Over and over again, sometimes in every other verse, we keep hearing that Moses performed his duties just as God had commanded. Alright already! We get it! How hard is it to get a job done right?!?

Why doesn't the Torah just sum up our entire portion with one, final, all-encompassing statement? Why 19 repetitions? As with everything else in the Bible, there's a lesson to be learned here, and I'd like to offer one possibility. Moses takes great pride in his work. Completing each of his tasks, both to the best of his abilities and precisely in accordance with God's wishes, is a tremendous source of pride for him. Indeed, there are few things in life

that feel as fulfilling as a job well done. And I would even argue that it does not matter what that job consists of. Whether you are building a sanctuary to house the Divine Presence or putting together a piece of IKEA furniture; whether you are the CEO of a company or drive a garbage truck; whether you are the headliner of a Broadway smash hit or are throwing on a dress and makeup for the first time to perform in a synagogue play - take pride in what you do. It makes the work better, it makes you feel uplifted, and it can even affect those around you who are inspired by your example.

The strange thing is, it often feels difficult to view work this way. Most of it isn't fun, it isn't very glamorous, and we rarely see the fruits of our labor. How do you take pride in that stuff? We look at Moses talking about the Tabernacle, and we think, "Oh sure, he's feeling great. Who wouldn't feel that way doing God's work??" But if you read this section of the Bible, you see that Moses' job was VERY tedious, and he often took a lot of abuse for it! Everything positive was attributed to God, and everything negative was Moses' fault. Yet here we see Moses really feeling good about himself, and about the task at hand, and this can serve as a model to all of us. Not every job is wonderful, and even the good ones come with challenges and frustrations. But like Moses, we should seek out the parts we enjoy, or the tasks that are fulfilling.

One final thought: Moses felt that every aspect of his work was governed by God, so much so that he told us about it 19 times. For him, this enhanced the experience, and gave him the extra motivation he needed. How might this be true in our lives as well? How can you get to a place of feeling that God is a partner in the work that you do, that God cares about how well you perform

your tasks? Working with children, healing people who are sick, saving someone money on their taxes - all of this can be holy work. It may not seem that way at first, or all the time, but it becomes holy work if we experience it that way. So to answer the question we started out with, how hard is it to get a job done right? It all depends on how much you take pride in it, and how holy you make it.

Photos in this blog post:
1. CC Image courtesy of Jinx! on Flickr
2. CC image (of doohickey) courtesy of mikelehen on Flickr
3. CC image courtesy of miss_rogue on Flickr
4. CC image courtesy of Claire L. Evans on Flickr
5. CC image courtesy of isafmedia on Flickr

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