“The Torah Promotes the Work Ethic”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In parashat Bereshith, after six days of creating the world, G-d rested on the seventh day, blessed it and designated it as a sanctified day of rest to be known as Shabbat.

In Genesis 2:4, the Torah describes the state of the world after creation. Genesis 2:5 records, כֹל שִׂיחַ הַשָּׂדֶה טֶרֶם יִהְיֶה בָאָרֶץ, וְכָל עֵשֶׂב הַשָּׂדֶה טֶרֶם יִצְמָח, כִּי לֹא הִמְטִיר השׁם אֱ־לֹקִים עַל הָאָרֶץ, וְאָדָם אַיִן לַעֲבֹד אֶת הָאֲדָמָה . Now all the trees of the field were not yet on the earth, and all the herbs of the field had not yet sprouted, for the Lord G-d had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to work the soil.

The Torah (Genesis 2:6) then notes that a mist ascended from the earth and watered the whole surface of the soil.

Rabbi Chaim Dov Rabinowitz in his commentary, Daat Sofrim, writes that human history began under extraordinarily promising conditions. The earth was full of light, radiating splendor and pleasure, and G-d’s creations were free of worries, stress, and suffering. The primordial human beings were placed in an entirely spiritual setting where they could live a pure and elevated life. Only after the humans proved that they were not capable of living a fully spiritual life in the Garden of Eden, were they removed from the garden. The earth, despite its immense resources and potential wealth, was desolate, disorganized. The original splendor had vanished.

After sinning with the forbidden fruit, humankind was now destined to do battle with the powers of nature. In order to create for themselves a life in the real world, they would have to struggle to succeed. Human beings would now be constantly weary, hungry, barefoot and mortal, with the prospect of death always looming, a far cry from the utopian conditions in which they had originally been created.

When humans were first created, they emerged as kings, not laborers, and were certainly not inclined to work. In that purely spiritual environment, it was impossible for primordial man to recognize that real pleasure in life comes from work. He could not fathom the insightful conclusion reached by Ben Hey-Hey who declared (Avot 5:27), לְפוּם צַעֲרָא אַגְרָא , according to the effort is the reward.

To keep things fresh in the world, G-d had to bring a mist, for there was no man to “work the soil.”

As the story evolves, in Genesis 2:15, G-d takes the human beings and places them in the Garden of Eden, לְעָבְדָהּ וּלְשָׁמְרָהּ , to work it and to guard it. After all, every meaningful relationship requires not only work, but effort to preserve the work, to enhance it, to make it more meaningful. It is in this rather obscure statement, that the Torah reveals the subtle formula for a meaningful existence. Not only is there a need to work, but also to guard, to preserve, to conserve, and to protect the works of our hands and our environment.

This revolutionary idea that the Torah records, goes back 5778 years. Although it was revealed in antiquity, humanity today is still trying to understand and appreciate the inevitable conclusion: The more effort invested in a relationship–the greater the reward. Only through intense effort and labor can human beings re-create the original spiritual environment intended for humanity.

It was this special work ethic that played a critical role in the establishment and founding of the State of Israel.

One of the truly fascinating pioneers of modern-day Israel, was A.D. Gordon (1856-1922), a man who came from a traditional Jewish background and lived most of his life as a religious Jew. At age 48, he moved to what was then Palestine. Although he had no training in farming or agriculture, he decided that he was going to work the land with his own two hands and make it blossom. Working long days, in often brutal conditions, dedicating his nights to study, A.D. Gordon was soon recognized as a revolutionary and came to be considered the father of “Torat ha’Avodah,” proclaiming the immense value of labor, especially of manual labor. Until he passed at age 68, he supported himself as a menial agricultural laborer working every day.

In his writings he declared, “The land of Israel is acquired through labor, not through fire and not through blood.” Returning to the soil, he proclaimed, would transform the Jewish people and allow its rejuvenation.

His writings boldly reflect his uncompromising commitment to these ideals:

The Jewish people have been completely cut off from nature and imprisoned within city walls for 2000 years. We have been accustomed to every form of life, except a life of labor–a labor done at our behalf and for its own sake. It will require the greatest efforts of will for such people to become normal again. We lack the principal ingredient for a national life, we lack the habit of labor . . . for it is labor which binds the people to its soil and to its national culture, which in turn is the outgrowth of the people’s toil and the people’s labor (A.D. Gordon, Our Tasks Ahead, 1920).

As we start the new year, it is important for us to appreciate how vitally important is the ingredient of labor. It is only through our willingness to invest sincere effort into the principles we cherish that our dreams will be realized and our connection to the Al-mighty G-d solidified. This powerful message is found in the very first parasha of the Torah. We must embrace it, practice it and make certain to transmit it to the future generations.

May you be blessed.

The intermediary days (Chol HaMoed) are observed through Wednesday, October 11th. On Wednesday evening, the festival of Shemini Atzeret commences, and is celebrated on Thursday, October 12th. The final day of the festival, Simchat Torah, begins on Thursday evening, October 12th and continues through Friday, October 13th.