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Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Feb. 10, 2006 / 12 Shevat, 5766

Is work really worth it?

By Rabbi David Fohrman


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The fourth in a series of five articles



http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | We all work for a fair part of our lives. But there's something unsettling about this activity we call work.


This fact was made clear to me years ago by a teacher who took particular delight in tormenting us eager students with what might be charitably called healthy servings of philosophical cynicism. He once assigned a particularly difficult paper to my classmates and myself — and then, before we started working on it, he posed the following challenge to us:


"It's going to take you many hours of work if you want to achieve an 'A' on this paper.— he began. "But let's say you put in those hours of work, and you hand in a really top-notch draft. And let's say that in the end, I decide to give you that 'A'. What would happen next?"


We shrugged. It was an important class, and most of us really wanted that 'A'.


"You'd be ecstatic", he said. "You might jump up and down and run down the hall to call your mother. You'll tell your friends."


"But then what will happen?" he asked. For how long will you remain excited?


An hour?


Three hours?


A day?


Soon, it's going to wear off; you'll get restless; you'll be ready for something new…"


"So ask yourself", he concluded, "maybe it's just not worth it. Why are you bothering to do this?"


In effect, our professor was asking us to make a simple profit-loss analysis: If you spend sixty hours working on a paper and you get only two or three hours of satisfaction from your grade afterwards — well, why bother? It doesn't seem to add up.


Now, don't get me wrong. The professor was not trying to convince us that we should get lazy on our papers. What he was really trying to do was help us clarify our goals.

CLARIFYING GOALS
If we told ourselves that the goal of our work was the satisfaction we would receive in the end — well, then, he would argue — we were just fooling ourselves. That kind of satisfaction is very fleeting. It evaporates after a couple hours or a couple days.


Rather, he was suggesting, the work was only worth it is if we saw it as satisfying in and of itself. The process of writing that paper, of struggling to meet the challenge, had to be seen as its own reward. If we couldn't take pride in that process; if we couldn't see the process itself as valuable — well then, we might as well just forget it.

A TROUBLING CONCLUSION
But the professor's point, while it might ring true, is unsettling. It's not so bad, maybe, when the only thing at stake is your college paper. But when you apply his logic outside the classroom, to life in the real world, things start to look a little depressing. For just about anything worthwhile we do in life requires work, and if we make a similar profit-loss analysis about the meaning of any work, we will reach similar conclusions.


In other words, say you're toiling away on an five-month project your boss assigns you, or that you are spending years writing a book. You invest seemingly countless hours in your labors. How much satisfaction will you possibly get at the end?


Enough to justify your weeks or months of toil?


Not likely.


A friend I know worked tirelessly writing a book for the better part of three years. When it was finally published, his wife threw him a surprise party and invited the neighborhood. He was thrilled with the feeling of completion. But his thrill faded after a matter of days. He was restless, and his recent success was no comfort. He related to me that in the years since finishing the work, he almost never went back to crack open the binding of the book he wrote. That chapter in his life was filed away. It was time to move on.


There's something depressing about this. All of life's successes seem to fade so quickly. No feeling of satisfaction or well-being ever lasts very long. Yes, you can take pride in the process. You can see the act of writing as its own reward. That's all very nice. But if what we did was truly worthwhile, why can't we hold onto the pleasure of actually achieving our goal, as well? Why must the satisfaction of success be so fleeting?

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The more successful you get, it seems to me, the more you are bothered by this problem. One of the most successful men in Jewish history was terribly troubled by this problem; he wrote an entire book recounting how he was haunted by it. That book, canonized as part of the Bible, is known as Ecclesiastes. In Ecclesiastes, King Solomon pours out his frustration at a world that won't let any mark of success stand for very long at all. The world is constantly in motion, constantly changing. Nothing — not the fact of success, nor our pleasure in the face of it — endures long enough to be ultimately satisfying.


I think the phenomenon that the Torah call the Sabbath is meant, in part, to address this problem. The Sabbath, in a way, is designed to provide an antidote to the "boredom of success". And this, perhaps, may provide a key to a puzzle we alluded to last week. The sages of the Midrash tell us that the Sabbath is "me'ein olam haba" — a taste of the World to Come. The phrase rolls off our lips easily; it's something a lot of us have been taught since childhood. But what does it really mean? What fundamental similarity does olam haba, the World to Come, have with the phenomenon we know as the Sabbath?


We suggested briefly last week that the World to Come, the World of Being, is intimately connected with the idea of the Sabbath; that this world-beyond is somehow the native soil in which the Sabbath grows. The secret of this connection, I think, has much to do with the issues we've been talking about in the lines above. We'll try and put all this together when we come back for our final installment, next week.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes inspirational articles. Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor Rabbi David Fohrman directs the Hoffberger Foundation for Torah Studies, and is an adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins University, where he teaches Biblical Themes. He has also authored several volumes of the ArtScroll Talmud.

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Previously:


Big Creator, little Creator
Why would the All-Powerful need to rest?
Joe on the Plane and the Meaning of Sabbath





© 2006, Rabbi David Fohrman