A Reason For the Same Old
It’s interesting when you take note of things that are most often a certain way and you realize that there’s a reason for it. For example, in a car, the hood release latch is nearly always under the left side of the dashboard. It’s where the driver can easily reach it while being supported by the steering wheel, unless of course, you end up like someone I knew who simply could not find the hood release.
Turns out, it was on the right side under the dash. Why, you ask? Because it was a British car, made or transformed for the American market, and I guess they didn’t think it entirely through.
What made me think about this? I was visiting someone’s vacation home in Florida and looked out the kitchen window to see the green spaces and water feature behind the house. It struck me that some sort of kitchen windows – often big picture windows – are nearly always placed over the sink. Have you noticed that?
“Picture” Windows – A Broader Perspective
I think it’s because if you have to wash dishes, you don’t want to be stuck looking at the wall. Just because you’re doing drudge work, doesn’t mean you want to feel that way. You want a broader perspective; to see a better world ahead of you.
The dishes are a necessary part of life, but not the reason you live. If you could only focus on them and nothing else, it would be rather demoralizing, hence you don’t stand at a kitchen sink with your face to a blank wall, and instead, a pane of glass is installed. As I took note of this, I thought about what it meant in the broader scheme of life.
There are things we simply have to do even if we don’t want to. One of the first things that comes to mind is working and providing for our families. As Hashem (God) told Adam HaRishon (the first man), “By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread.” It isn’t easy for most people, and for the people to whom it does come easy, there are usually strings attached. But we need to work because Hashem arranged the world in a way that we need to make efforts for our livelihood.
Working For a Higher Purpose
That said, we shouldn’t look at working as an end unto itself. The Gemara (Beitzah 16a) in the name of R’ Zeira, discusses the foolish Babylonians who “eat bread with bread.” The Baalei Mussar explain that these people created a meaningless cycle of working in order to buy food, which they would eat to have strength to work, in order to buy food…
Yes, we need to work, but for what higher and nobler purpose? Simply put, Hashem wants us to work. We can have this intention when we head to the office, that we’re doing the will of Hashem. When it gets difficult, we can take comfort in the knowledge that not every mitzvah (Torah commandment) will be easy.
We can work with the intention of helping others. Enabling our employers (who are helping many people) and colleagues to be successful, providing for our families, and giving charity – these are all noble objectives we can have when we work. These thoughts are the “windows over the sink” which help us see past the daily grind to a greater destination. In fact, if, when literally doing the dishes, we picture in our minds that we’re cleaning our homes for the Shechinah to dwell there, or that we’re making people happy and preparing for another Shabbat meal, we can find the task uplifting and meaningful.
Groaning About the Work – Or the Babies?
In Parshat Shemot, (2:23) the Torah tells us that Pharaoh died, and the Jews groaned because of the hard labor. Chazal (The Torah Sages) tell us that Pharaoh got tzara’at, leprosy, and the prescription his advisors gave him was to bathe in human blood. Thereupon they began to slaughter Jewish babies, 150 in the morning and 150 in the afternoon. In response to that, the Jews groaned.
Rabbi Asher Weiss shlit”a asks: “Why does it say they groaned about the work? They were groaning about the babies!”
He answers that as long as they had children, they had a future. If there was a future, they could survive the difficult labor they had to endure now, because there was a higher purpose to it. They were paving the way for a better tomorrow; for the generations of mitzvot and lifetimes of good their descendants would lead. That made it bearable.
However, once that hope was gone, and there was no purpose to their drudgery and slave labor, then what was the point of it all? Now the work was overpowering because it was just work and nothing else, nothing higher.
Once again, we’re back, standing at the kitchen sink, looking past the menial and mindless efforts, reminding ourselves that whatever we do should be with a loftier purpose and goal in mind. We are a nation that lives for eternity, which is closely connected and intertwined with our fellow Jews and our Creator. With that in mind, the vistas ahead of us are infinite.
By Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz
Rabbi Gewirtz (Operation Inspiration) welcomes comments and feedback. Write to him at info@JewishSpeechWriter.com to share your thoughts. You never know when you may be the lamp that enlightens someone else.