I’m Overqualified

Should Have Been the Boss

Have you ever heard of a Jew who isn’t overqualified for his job? Have you ever heard of a Jew, who can’t do his boss’ job better than his boss? I don’t know about you, but where I live we have a unique custom. After morning services, we pile into the coffee area and solve the world’s problems. We do the same thing during the Kiddush on Shabbat. We know how to run governments, conglomerates and organizations better than those who run them.

If that’s the case, I ask a simple question: If we can all lead the country, why don’t we? Why are we bricklaying, truck driving and bookkeeping?

Have you heard of the camel that asked its mother, why camels have such large humps? The mother said it was to help them travel across vast deserts. To which the camel replied, Mom, if we are built to traverse vast desserts, what are we doing in the Bronx Zoo?

And the answer is that if all camels went to the Sahara Desert, how would kids in the Bronx get to visit a camel? Of course, we might suggest that the inferior camels who are unable to cross deserts should be displayed in the zoo, but in that case, children in the Bronx would never get to see the good camels. And who says that traveling across the desert is more important than teaching children about the wonderful and powerful animals created by G-d?

The same can be said about us. We are overqualified for the work that we do and the life that we live. It is a shame that people who know how to be prime minister or president never apply for the job. They are overqualified to sit in the back benches, yet they remain seated right there because if everyone tried to be the leader, there would be no back benchers. David Ben Gurion reportedly told President Truman that his job was much harder than Truman’s. Because Truman had to govern two hundred million citizens, but Ben Gurion had to govern two million governors.

You can’t have a nation of governors. A country needs citizens. It is true that every Jew can govern, but someone must be the citizen. And although they are overqualified to be citizens, the job must get done. That is why there are street cleaners, musicians, accountants, professors and taxi drivers in every Shull, but only one rabbi. Anyone can be a rabbi, but if everyone were the rabbi, there would be no Shull.

In Hebrew, the world chai means alive, but the wold for life is Chayim. Now chai is singular. Chaim is plural. On the surface, one would expect it to be the opposite. Many people can be alive, but our life force is singular, so why is Chaim, the Hebrew word for life, plural?

The answer is that we cannot live in a vacuum. Life in isolation is no life. If you are stuck on an island, you can be alive, but being alone, is not a life. Life requires community. It requires collaboration and integration. If we each seek the lonely position at the top, we won’t have a life. But if we each play our respective role, we can collectively find happiness in life.

G-d’s World

It is actually much deeper than that. It is not only that we need to fill positions for which we are overqualified, it is that we are each in the most important position. G-d designed our world and assigned us each a task. When providence leads us to a particular role in life, we know it is the task that G-d assigned to us. From G-d’s perspective, each task is central. G-d wants each position to be filled by the highest qualified people.

Washing windows and scrubbing floors is no less important to G-d than leading countries and saving lives. In the context of His world, each task must get done, and each requires people with the highest qualifications. It is not a shame that we need to do a job for which we are overqualified. It is perfect that critical jobs are being filled by the likes of us, eminently qualified people.

From our perspective, it can seem that some roles are more important or prestigious than others. But from G-d’s perspective each is equally important. Each morning we recite a prayer that goes something like this. “You commanded that the priests serve at the altar, the Levites serve in the orchestra and the Israelites pray from the pews.” Each role is commanded by G-d. Some rolls appear to be more prestigious because they are in the limelight, but it is only small people like us, who worry about insignificant concerns like the limelight. From G-d’s perspective, the only question is this: does the job need doing? If the answer is yes, then it needs to be done by the best and most qualified person.

The focus is not on who is at the altar and who is in the pews. Whether at the altar or in the pews, the focus is G-d’s command.

About the Author
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a renowned lecturer, serves as Rabbi to Congregation Beth Tefilah in London Ontario. He is a member of the curriculum development team at Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and is the author of two books and nearly a thousand online essays. You can find his work at www.innerstream.org