A favorite saying of the Rabbis of Yavneh, told in the Talmud, was: “I am God’s creature and my fellow is God’s creature. My work is in the town and his work is in the country. I rise early for my work and he rises early for his work. Just as he does not presume to do my work, so I do not presume to do his work. Will you say, I do much and he does little? We have learnt: One may do much or one may do little; it is all one, provided he directs his heart to heaven.” [Berachot 17a]
Judaism is a tradition of action but motivation counts as well. The world is filled with various tasks, and the way you go about your work makes a difference. One who plants crops, who raises children, who practices medicine, who sells clothes and who writes poems all do vital work in God’s world.
Strikingly, the Talmud says this is a “favorite” saying. The idea that all work can be sacred if invested with the intention of sanctity can console us when things go badly and uplift us when they go well. Direct your heart to heaven.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).