Just a job or spiritual bliss?

Rabbi Baruch Plotkin
I have had the honor of serving Donna Klein Jewish Academy as the Rabbi in Residence for the past 5 years. We currently have 5 of our children attending DKJA in the lower school, middle school and high school. We feel so fortunate to be able to send our children to a school that so clearly lives the values we cherish and shares these values educationally with our children. It is an honor to be part of this “Holy” community and a privilege to serve as its Rabbi. 
Many people have the misconception that the only way to have a spiritual experience is to go up to a mountain and meditate or go into a synagogue and pray all day or learn Torah. It is true that these are ways to connect to God, but we can achieve spiritual heights through just and proper relationships with other people through our daily activities. For me, this might be the most important aspect of working at DKJA and why I find my work experience so spiritual and inspirational. Walking through the halls and interacting with the faculty and staff on a daily basis, I am a witness to the elevation of mundane daily activities into purposeful work that is elevating the students in our school to discover their unique talents and bring them to the world.
In Exodus (20:8-11) we are taught: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy, six days you shall work and do all your melachah (creative labor) but the seventh day is a Sabbath.” We are given not only the mitzvah of Shabbat but also an important precursor of “melachah.” For a person cannot rest unless he or she has first worked. The Torah values rest on Shabbat but also demands that we labor during the week and are creative partners with the divine in building the world. 
When we say kiddush on Shabbat, we attest to God’s continuing involvement in history through the exodus from Egypt. We also declare that God created the world. Through this we realize that there is a creator and therefore life has a purpose. It is this purpose that we reflect on during Shabbat. However, during the rest of the week we emulate God by engaging in creative processes in God’s world. This is a spiritual insight into the purpose of melachah. By engaging in work, we express our unique purpose through our actions and we connect to Hashem.
The value of work is expressed in the Mishna (Pirke Avot): “Shemiah says: love ‘melachah.’” The midrash (Tosafot Yom Tov) explains that even a rich man should busy himself in labor since occupation has a benefit beyond that of producing income. That benefit is the inherent value of creative labor.
The Talmud relates a story of Rav Yochanan, who once saw an old man planting a carob tree. He asked the old man, “Do you think that you will ever eat the fruits of this tree?” (as it takes 70 years for a carob tree to blossom). The old man answered, “Just as my ancestors planted for me, I plant for my children and my children’s children.” Rabbi Yochanan then falls asleep. When he awakes and sees the grown tree, he realizes that he has been asleep for 70 years. Then he goes into the beit midrash (house of study). He introduces himself and resolves a number of disputes that had developed in the past. But why were there so many unresolved disputes in the house of study? The answer is that while Rav Yochanan had been asleep, he had been unable to contribute his voice to the study hall. This is the power of “melachah.” If we go to sleep and do not contribute what we were uniquely created to contribute, the world is lacking it. 
The lesson is clear. We shouldn’t sleep our lives away. Expressing our unique purpose through the work that we do elevates mundane daily activities into Jewish spiritual bliss. And through this we obtain spiritual closeness to God. Through the melachah (creative labor) we do during the week, we plant the seeds for the future generations and are partners with Hashem in the building of His beautiful world. These are the values we are living at DKJA, that we are teaching our children and that make our community a place where families flourish.