It’s amazing to watch how much work people are sometimes willing to do, in order to avoid doing work. As a teacher, I frequently enjoy a front row seat to this spectacle.
Of course, it’s a futile, self-defeating pursuit. As the book of Job puts it, “a person is born to work” (5:7). Life is work. That’s a given. The choice we do have is who we will work for, and what attitude we will adopt. As Bob Dylan said: “It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”
As Devarim 28 put it first: “Since you didn’t serve God happily and with a good heart when you had it all, you’ll serve your enemies when you have nothing.”
While this might seem to be a depressingly Sisyphean perspective on life, it’s actually a blessing. If service of God had an end point, it would be an unreachable one. The fact that the work of this life is endless means that ‘it is not incumbent on you to finish the work”. The goal of the religious life isn’t, and cannot be, achievement. It’s about movement, and everyone is capable of moving, progressing, improving.
Perhaps this is why Jewish law is called halacha. We’re expected to walk in God’s path, ‘ve’halachta bederachav’. No more, and no less. The one question that makes all the difference between blessing and curse is simple. Are you working on it?