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Shabbat Blog: Get To Work

Friday, May 27, 2022
Posted by: Rabbi Barry Gelman

 אִם־בְּחֻקֹּתַ֖י תֵּלֵ֑כוּ וְאֶת־מִצְותַ֣י תִּשְׁמְר֔וּ וַעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָֽם׃ 

 If you follow (walk in accordance with) My laws and faithfully observe My commandments, 

The great Torah commentator, Rashi, quotes the Midrash as follows.  

ואת מצותי תשמרו. הֱווּ עֲמֵלִים בַּתּוֹרָה עַל מְנָת לִשְׁמֹר וּלְקַיֵּם, כְּמוֹ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר "וּלְמַדְתֶּם אֹתָם וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם לַעֲשֹׂתָם" (דברים ה'): 

You shall toil in the study of Torah in order to observe and fulfill [the commandments (Torath Kohanim 26:2). This is similar to, “[Hear, O Israel, the statutes and ordinances…] and learn them, and keep in mind to do them” (Deut. 5:1) . 

Rashi, probably focusing on the word in the verse, “Teileichu”, translated it as “follow”. But in this case, where it means to walk, it is highlighting that just like walking requires effort, so does doing God’s will and studying God’s word. 

The use of the toil / “amal” is instructive. 

Notice that the Midrash did not say that we must “know” the Torah or “master” the Torah. Rather, it says that we must “toil” in the Torah.  

The point is that it is the effort that matters when it comes to doing God’s will. We never really know if we will succeed in any endeavor - but that does not free us from the obligation to toil in it.  

I was thinking about this approach in the wake of the awful tragedy in Uvalde, Texas this week.  

For many, it feels like the enacting stronger gun control laws in this country is just too great of a hill to climb. It even feels impossible to consider passing a law that would make possession of an assault rifle illegal. To that we should say -as the Midrash says:  הֱווּ עֲמֵלִים בַּתּוֹרָה  - We must toil in Torah! We must work to bring about a society that is not willing to allow our children to be murdered. There is too much at stake to be tentative. 

This attitude is summed up by Rabbi Tarfon (Avot 2:16) who said:  

לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמֹר, וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּה. 

It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it. 

In the previous Mishnah, rabbi Tarfon said: 

הַיּוֹם קָצָר וְהַמְּלָאכָה מְרֻבָּה, וְהַפּוֹעֲלִים עֲצֵלִים, וְהַשָּׂכָר הַרְבֵּה, וּבַעַל הַבַּיִת דּוֹחֵק:  

…the day is short, and the work is plentiful, and the laborers are indolent, and the reward is great, and the master of the house is insistent. 

Put together, the message is clear - the “master of the house”, has expectations of us, even when the work is plentiful. The boss is insistent that we do the work we are called upon to do. Of course, the boss is also aware that we may not finish the work - but he demands that we start - that we try.  

An ideological commitment requires that we work - בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ֥ וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ֖ וּבְכָל־מְאֹדֶֽךָ - with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (Deut. 6:5). 

Finally, these two statements remind us that we are much more powerful working in coalitions than working alone. We must start the work, others will take over.  

With blessings for a peaceful Shabbat. 
Rabbi Gelman

Let us keep the families of the Uvalde victims – Uziyah Garcia, Xavier Lopez, Eliahana Cruz Torres, Jose Flores, Jailah Silguero, Layla Salazar, Jayce Luevanos, Amerie Jo Garza, Alithia Ramirez, Tess Mata, Lexi Rubio, Makenna Lee Elrod, Nevaeh Bravo, Ellie Garcia, Annabell Rodriguez, Rojelio Torres, Jacklyn Cazares, two other students, and teachers Eva Mireles and Irma Garcia – in our tefilot this Shabbat. 

Rabbi Barry Gelman is the Director of the Bobbi & Vic Samuels Center for Jewish Living and Learning (CJLL). Rabbi Gelman teaches a number of classes at the Evelyn Rubenstein JCC and is working on injecting Jewish content to existing programs as well as developing new programs to highlight the beauty and relevance of

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