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Home » Chayei Sara, Environment, Life Is Beautiful

Chayei Sarah: The Joys of Hard Work

Submitted by on November 6, 2014 – 2:50 pmNo Comment | 5,337 views

No Break

Abraham seems to have been in love with hard work. The frenetic pace of his life was unusual. In his youth, he organized and gave mass lectures on Monotheism all across Mesopotamia. He wrote four hundred books on the subject.

He moved to Israel at the age of seventy-five and continued apace. He set up and managed hospitality inns all over the country, launched himself into a war to free his nephew, had a baby when he was eighty-six and circumcised himself at ninety-nine. Not one to shirk hard work, he defended the people of Sodom before G-d and had another baby at the age of a hundred.

When he was a hundred-thirty-seven he undertook an ardous three day journey through the mountains to bind his son Isaac and when he returned, he found that his wife Sarah had passed away. He immediately purchased a plot for her burial, organized her funeral and mourning period.

When this was all said and done, you might imagine that Abraham would have opted to rest, but that was not to be. Shortly after the mourning period for Sarah, he organized a complicated campaign to find a bride for Isaac. And here is the most amazing part. Having arranged for his son to be married, Abraham, at his old age and having lost his life-long wife, remarried and had more children.

Abraham was not ready to give up and retire. He had lots of hard work left in him and rest would need to wait. I doubt that we can keep this pace, but we can learn a lesson from it.

Hard Work

Do you work all year so you can take a vacation in the summer or do you vacation in the summer to rejuvenate and go back to work? Do you work all day so you can rest in bed at night or do you rest in bed at night so you can wake up and work in the morning?

Because we sink into bed at night with a true sigh of relief and wake up in the morning with a long groan of unhappiness, we erroneously think that we are happier at rest than at work. But that isn’t true. When we are fully engaged, overcoming challenges, dealing with crises and making progress, we are vibrant, alive and abuzz. When we are relaxed and at rest, we grow indolent and sluggish.

We enjoy the moment of transition from frenetic pace to rest, which is why we sigh with relief when we crawl into bed, settle into vacation or light Shabbat candles on Friday night, but overall we are happiest when we are at work. It doesn’t feel that way while we are at it, but in retrospect we can admit that we are at our best, when we are wholly focused and fully engaged.

This is because G-didn’t create man to relax, but to be purposeful. When we are pursuing a goal and accomplishing a purpose we feel synchronized with our essence. Being at rest is not natural to us. While we enjoy the break for a little while, we soon yearn for a return to work. Because at work, we are in a giving mode, we contribute to the universe, to society and to life. When we are at rest we are in receiving mode, we receive from the universe and from life. We are happier contributing than receiving because we are, at heart, purpose driven. It is how G-d made us.

The River

The other day I went for a hike along the river with a geologist, who kindly explained the historic and geologic features of the river. I had always known that the water flows more quickly over the boulders, but I never knew how these riffles are formed.

He explained that flood activity moves boulders from one section of the river to the next, creating a deeper pool where the rocks were removed and a shallower section where the rocks are deposited. The buildup of rocks forms a lip that the water must overcome and to compensate the slope is steeper in the riffle than in the pool. Thus the water runs faster in the steep shallow riffle than in the deep flat pool.

My friend explained that if nature had its way, river slopes would descend continually and gradually, forming one long pool of deep calm waters. But since this rarely happens, nature compensates with an alternating series of pools and riffles. This is one area where I think he is mistaken. From a spiritual point of view, rivers, just like humans, should have riffles and pools.

G-d created the world for humans as indicated by the fact that humans were the last species that He created.[1] Since the world was created for us, nature should and does reflect us.

Humans cannot maintain a continual pace of hard work. We must stop on occasion to relax and rejuvenate. But we cannot relax for long, at some point we grow restless and search for something to do. The calm pools in the river represent our periods of rest and the riffles represent our periods of hard work. Just as we must toggle back and forth and cannot maintain a continual presence in either sphere, so it is with nature as expressed by the alternating pools and riffles of the river.

When sitting near rivers, I usually seek out the riffles. That is where I can hear the rush of water and watch the river wash over and around the boulders. It is active, engaging and interesting; it conveys excitement and purpose whereas the pools convey calm. If we only had pools, we would miss out on the excitement of the riffles. If we only had riffles, we would miss out on the pools.

We need both. Calm waters run deep just as times of relaxation are conducive to deep thought and serious reflection. But the shallow riffle is where the river shows its awesome power just as we display our ingenuity and resourcefulness when we encounter the challenges and difficulties in the riffles of life.

I always thought that the purpose of the riffle was to feed the pools, my friend taught me that the opposite is true. The pools are formed to create the riffles. The rivers are just like us. We too don’t work in order to rest. We rest in order to work because only at work can we discover our true selves.

Rest Is Overrated

Abraham surely rested from time to time, but he clearly required less rest than most. What we can learn from Abraham is that rest is overrated. The best condition in life, is the frenetic pace of hard work. That is when we come alive. That is when we are most fully human. That is when we most reflect our creator.

He made us for a purpose. Our task is to find that purpose and pursue it. If at times we must rest, it is to gather strength for more work. Our rest invigorates us for the challenges that lie ahead.

May we find the strength to complete our tasks, the creativity to overcome our challenges and the wisdom to appreciate the vibrancy that such trials bring.


[1] Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 38a. By this we mean that He created the world so we could serve Him in it. Though we are capable of sin and thus lower than other creatures, we are also capable of rising above ourselves to serve Him. Of all types of work discussed in this essay, this is the truly important type.

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