The Bible Says What? ‘Working hard doesn’t always bring rewards’
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Analysis

The Bible Says What? ‘Working hard doesn’t always bring rewards’

Rabbi Deborah Blausten takes a controversial topic from the Torah and offers a progressive perspective

Torah scroll (Photo by Tanner Mardis on Unsplash)
Torah scroll (Photo by Tanner Mardis on Unsplash)

When Adam is punished by God in the Garden of Eden for eating from the tree of knowledge, he is told by God that he will now have to toil
for everything he needs throughout his life.

The notion that we need to work for the things we have is so simple and obvious it perhaps goes unquestioned, yet in the image of perfection that the garden represents, man’s meaning does not come from work, but rather from existence.

Does Torah really suggest that having to work for what we need is bad? Surely that’s how we learn to appreciate things? What does that mean for those of us who derive value from our vocations? Or who enjoy the fruits of our labour?

Perhaps Shabbat can help us look differently at this, because Shabbat is understood as a glimpse of the world to come, a return to a more perfect world, and on Shabbat we cease from all work.

Rabbi Gunther Plaut wrote of this, saying: “We must once again understand that doing nothing… can be as important as, and sometimes more important than what we commonly call useful.

“Formerly a person who did not work was considered useless; what we need now is a purposeful uselessness, an activity (or non-activity) which is important in that it becomes an essential protest against that basic unrest which comes from competition without end.”

Plaut’s teaching is that we humans have inherent value even when we’re not working, and when we’re not defined by our ability to produce or toil. Work can give us joy, but we must not make our joy, or our sense of our value, dependent on our work.

Rabbi Deborah Blausten serves Finchley Reform Synagogue

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