Monday, November 07, 2005

Finding Meaning In The Workplace

I came across a story one morning that really helps put things into perspective. This story comes from the sefer Kuntres Chaim V'Chessed:

The Chofetz Chaim once expressed his great envy to a pharmacist regarding his occupation, which gave him myriad opportunities each day to dispense medication and thereby save lives. The pharmacist rejected the praise, confessing his real purpose was not saving lives, but rather earning a living. The Chofetz Chaim advised him that he should not waste the great spiritual potential of his profession. "When you dispense medication," he advised, "do so with the intention that 'I am fulfilling a mitzvah of chessed and saving lives.' Earning a profit does not devalue the mitzvah, as long as you have the proper intentions."

The pharmacist followed the Chofetz Chaim's advice. He became an important communal leader whose guidance was eagerly sought. Years later, he acknowledged that the merit of the intentions of chessed with which he performed his responsibilities as a pharmacist earned him his special status.

Although it sometimes close to impossible to find any meaning in my profession, I now go to work with the intention that I am there to fulfill a mitzvah by doing chessed for others in my office building. If nothing else, leaving my home each morning with this intention allows me to find some minuscule bit of meaning in an otherwise meaningless place.


At November 7, 2005 at 11:10:00 AM EST, Blogger Shoshana said...

I really like that. I am going to attempt to do the same in my seemingly meaningless job. Thank you for the inspiration.

At November 7, 2005 at 11:15:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Once again, I am glad someone else could benefit from a posting of mine. Thanks Shoshana.

At November 7, 2005 at 3:46:00 PM EST, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

Yiddishkeit is experienced so differently by different people. For example, as a man, my experiences for Shabbos or Yom Tov has a lot to do with davening, shul or a Dvar Torah. For my wife, I would imagine it has a lot to do with cooking, time with the family, a few quite moments to think / daven, a clean house (and maybe some "cabin fever"). As such, it is unfathomable to me how she can experience Yom Kipper sitting at home - I would feel so strange not to be in shul on that day.
We spoke about this on a few occasions - years ago - and I wondered if sometimes it can almost become frustrating - the cleaning or cooking (which she does most of) may feel so mundane, and some of the missing ritualistic elements wound seem to take away from the Holiday - no?
She said that in the Beis Hamikdash there were Kohanim, Leviyim and Yisroeilim. Each had their role, and their experiences (quite distinct from the others). The Kohen surely thought of Yiddishkeit based on his role, but the Levi would have a completely different - perhaps more "mundane" - role.
So, Whenever the Holiday preparations seem to be "unspiritual" she says to herself:
"I'm a Levite, not a Kohen, and although it may not look like it, both roles are spiritual in essence. So Levi, get to work!"
When she told me this, I immediately applied it to the scenario you mention here - to those of us who have seemingly mundane jobs as opposed to those who may have a more spiritual job in life. If we do our mundane work in a spiritual way, it is no less spiritual than any other holy occupation!

At November 7, 2005 at 7:44:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

That was certainly a long comment for someone who doesn't have time for for a guest posting....(just kidding) ;)

Thank you for your insight on this issue, Chabakuk Elisha.

While we both may work at places that do meaningful things, our individual roles are but a small fraction of the overall "mission". It is also sometimes hard to keep in mind that our mundane work helps contribute to to bigger picture.

Your wife certainly seems to be able to see things in perspective and I sure wish it was easier for me as well.

Finally, applying the last sentence of your comment, how are you able to do your mundane work in a spiritual way?

At November 7, 2005 at 8:03:00 PM EST, Blogger MC Aryeh said...

ASJ - There is also all that your mundane work enables you to do - support your family, afford yeshiva tuition, shul membership, shabbat and yom tov preparations - which allows you and your family to live a spiritual life. No small thing.

If you were to choose over again, what profession would you have picked? What would be your meaningful job?

At November 8, 2005 at 3:58:00 AM EST, Blogger Alan aka Avrum ben Avrum said...

Dear ASJ,

A really thoughful post ... thank you.

First off, I would respond to Reb Chabakuk that ... "sounds to me that you have 'one heck of a fabulous wife there!' a genuine tzedekes!

Secondly, though I do not know in what sort of business you are ASJ ... I feel that how a Jew conducts himself in business is of the greatest importance for the whole of Clal Yisroel! "Business Jews", as it were, are on the 'front lines' ... by our actions, we influence so much of public opinion with respect to how folks in the larger gentile community view our people; we have it within our grasp to either make a kiddush Ha Shem or a chilul Ha Shem so very frequently each and every day!

Such ordinary business practices covering everything from one's telephone manner, greeting every customer with a smile, going the extra mile even if it's not going to be a great sale, complete honesty in pricing ... the list is endless ...

May it never be said of us that we PRAY in the morning that we might PREY upon our fellow man for the rest of the day!

I remain,

Sincerely yours,

Alan D. Busch

At November 8, 2005 at 6:33:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

MCAryeh: You made a valid point. As for the question about doing it all over again, I really can't answer that since who I am today is a result of all the choices I have made in my life. Unfortunately, sometimes some of the more "meaningful" professions are not as high paying.

Alan: You made an excellent point as well. I like your thought about "Business Jews" serving on the front line.

Indeed, when I go into the work place each day, as one of the few Jews in my office building, I am conscience that I am an ambassador for all Jews, and also Hashem, for that matter.

At November 8, 2005 at 1:10:00 PM EST, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

Thank you everyone. Indeed all the points above points are valid! I agree with Alan that the working class of Jewry is the front lines, and that we have the responsibility to represent G-d in the best possible way.
(SJ, Sorry about still not getting to the guest posting... )
"Maaseh Umatan BeEmuna" is truly spiritual. The fact that someone works for a living and does so honestly, the way a Jew should, is a very high level. One of the primary lessons of the Baal Shem Tov was that we have the ability to serve G-d with the "mundane" - in many ways - unlike the opponents of Chassidism, who believed that if one was not occupied with "Klei Kodesh," then they were taking time away from the spiritual.
We are supposed to support our families and should not have to depend on charity or government programs (not to criticize the Kolel lifestyle, which is not for this conversation). If we perform our "mundane" tasks honestly and act as Jews should in the workplace, if we daven, learn and think Torah thoughts, than this is spiritual. A Levi who was responsible for carrying the mishkan was performing an avodah, and by doing so properly he was able to bring himself close to G-d - although our jobs may get us down sometimes, we need to recognize that we can serve G-d here as well.
R' Elimelech of Lizhensk once said that the concept of Hisbodedus (communication with G-d) should not be relegated to fields or the privacy of your room - rather, we should ultimately be able to do Hisbodedus anytime & anywhere; and that the highest level of Hisbodedus is indeed in public amongst the hustle & bustle of the world.
We have the power to make our jobs spiritual - for the inherent potential is there!

Hmmmm, I seem to be rambling again...

At November 8, 2005 at 1:42:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

CE: I never mind your ramblings!


At November 8, 2005 at 4:37:00 PM EST, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...


At November 9, 2005 at 3:34:00 PM EST, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

My wife read my post and wanted me to make a couple clarifications:

The Leviim did most of the cleaning in the Beis Hamikdash - and the Gemara says that they sang while they cleaned, because of the honor that they had a role in the Beis Hamikdash service.

At November 9, 2005 at 6:26:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

I am happy to hear that you have your wife read this blog from time to time.

If she wasn't so busy, I would her a guest posting as well ;)

At November 9, 2005 at 8:08:00 PM EST, Blogger Stx said...

I actually heard a woman tell a similar story...She was home on Yom Kippur and feeling self-pity about it. Her parent (father, I think?) called on erev Yom Kippur and she told him how she felt. He told her that the star of the day - the Kohen Gadol himself - did just the same thing. What was his avodah? He cooked meat. He cleaned away ashes. He didn't learn. Didn't even daven, necessarily, at least not more than we should all do on a minute-to-minute basis when doing something we feel is important. When all of klal yisroel was out there davening, he was locked away doing something that nobody would see, nobody would appreciate.

Nobody except Somebody.

Just a different take on what you already said, CE. SJ, I wish I could comment on all of your posts - they're incredible! And I really will, iy'H, think about the kids that will benefit from the textbooks that I'm editing...

At November 10, 2005 at 6:40:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Thanks stx. Very interesting thought!

Both CE and I always appreciate the compliments :)


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