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Home » Israel, Vayelech

Vayelech: All For The Boss

Submitted by on September 10, 2014 – 6:43 pmNo Comment | 1,193 views

Three Messages

I always say that it’s better to work for G-d, than for man. Man pays a higher salary than G-d, and every Rabbi can attest to that, but when you need the money and G-d is your boss, G-d always comes through.

That is the primary message of Shemitah, the Sabbatical year that we are about to enter. We don’t work for man. We work for G-d. For six years we plant our fields and it feels like we are working for ourselves. Then comes the seventh year and we take a sabbatical. We spend the time praying and learning and still, we survive. Even flourish. And suddenly we realize that when we thought we were working for ourselves, responsible for our own livelihood, we were really working for G-d. He paid our salary.

This lesson is learned not only by the Jew, but by the soil. For six years it appeared that the produce grew because man planted and the soil produced. Yet on the seventh year, man doesn’t plant and still the fruits grow. It reminds us that even when we plant, what grows is produced by G-d. It is just that for six years G-d chooses to produce them through our labor and on the seventh year He does it Himself.

This lesson is also learned by our possessions. For six years we toil and earn bread. What we earn, appears to be ours by right. On the seventh year, whatever we possess belongs to everyone equally. This reminds us that even when we bring home the check at the end of the month during the six years, the money is not really ours. It belongs to G-d and He chose to let us have it. Should He choose, as He does on the seventh year, it can belong to others too.

All For The Boss

Few Jews today make their living from farming. Yet, the message of Shemitah can be absorbed by all. We go to work every day and think that we and our time belong to our employers. If we work for ourselves, our sense is that we are enslaved to our careers or businesses.

Shemitah reminds us that we belong to G-d. It is His will that we provide for our family through our work, thus we work every day. But our time doesn’t belong to our work, it belongs to G-d. He is the boss and we serve Him. Some days, such as Shabbat and Chagim, we serve Him through prayer and study, and other days, such as the work week, we serve Him through going to work.

By the same token, Shemitah reminds us that what we earn is not the product of our labor. It comes from G-d. No matter that we wake up early to get to work and stay up late to close up, our income comes from G-d. Surely, the more we work, the more we earn, but that is just because we give G-d a larger pipeline through which to channel our blessing. It all comes from Him.

The message is that work can never come at the expense of prayer, Torah study or a Mitzvah. Just as we wouldn’t slack off of work to tend to personal needs, so should we not take off from G-d’s time to tend to work. It is like telling the boss that we have something more important than His interests to tend to.

The third message is equally clear. The money that we bring home is meant to serve G-d. To the extent that G-d wants us to support our family, we pay for our family’s needs and serve G-d that way. To the extent that G-d wants us to serve Him in comfort, we invest in a reasonable degree of comfort as we can afford and serve G-d that way. But beyond these measures, our money is not ours. It is G-d’s and we must look for ways to spend it on G-d’s needs.

G-d needs us to support our local Synagogue. G-d wants us to provide for the elderly and needy. G-d wants us to invest in Jewish continuity. G-d wants us to contribute to Jewish education. These are G-d’s needs and the money in our hand is G-d’s money. We are the executors of G-d’s will and that is a grand position to be in. We get to decide which of G-d’s needs to support, but we can’t spend G-d’s money on someone else’s luxuries even if that someone is us. It’s all for the boss.

Hakehl

The year after Shemitah is Hakhel. It is the year, when the king gathered the entire Jewish community on the temple mount during the holiday of Sukkot and read to them from the book of Deuteronomy. He read selections from the Shema and the laws of tithing and charity.[1]

The timing and purpose of these readings were deliberate. As a Jewish farmer walked away from a year of serving G-d and returned to six years of tilling the field, it would be easy to forget the lesson of the Shemitah. When we work for a living and see that our income is directly proportional to our effort, it is difficult to remember or even believe that our income comes from, and belongs to, G-d.

The readings at this gathering were designed to reinforce the Shemitah message. The first reading from Shema, reminds us that our first obligation is to G-d. Love G-d with all your heart, study His Torah day and night and fulfill His commandments. The second reading reminds us that the yield of our labor depends directly on G-d’s blessing. If you hearken to my will, I will make the rain fall and the earth will yield its bounty. The third message, that our income belongs to G-d, is reinforced by the readings that outline our obligations to support the poor and needy.

Naturally, a single reading, no matter how grand, won’t suffice to inspire for six full years. The intent was to remind the Jew to read these passages every day or every few days and seek renewed inspiration.

Contemporary Message

if this worked for our ancestors in Israel, it can work for us today. If we chant these readings from the Torah every day, and most of them are in our daily liturgy, we too can be inspired to these lofty thoughts.

It is most difficult to toil at work and feel that a, we work for G-d, b, we are paid by G-d and c, our income belongs to G-d. We worked hard, why should it go to G-d?

These readings help us remember that working hard is not enough. Joe famously told Ray in the movie, Fields of Dreams, “If you build it, he will come,” but in real life that is not always true. We can work hard to build a business and the customers don’t always come. Only G-d can ensure that “they come,” which is why our hard work is not enough.

If we take a page from the ancient Hakehl ceremony and read these selections from the Torah every day, we will come to recognize G-d’s hand in our success and attribute our success to G-d. We will realize that indeed our time belongs to G-d and so does our income. We will learn to use our time and our money as G-d would. In turn we hope that G-d will grants, a good, bountiful, happy and healthy year.[2]

 

[1] See Deuteronomy 31: 10. The readings were from Deuteronomy 6:4, 11: 13 and 14: 32.

[2] This essay is based on Likutei Sichos, v. 24, pp 197-207

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