What our projects make of us

Racheli was telling us about her latest project. We had been seated inside a circular hut, an Ethiopian structure, in the Yemin Orde Youth Village in Northern Israel. I’ve known her for years. She’s an inspiring leader of of the Village Way which instills trust, responsibility, and promise into the lives of thousands of teens that come from broken places.

Her latest personal project is translating one of her father’s books from Amharic. Since she isn’t fluent, it’s taking many years to complete. She then said something that moved us deeply. “I heard someone say, ‘You can judge the worthiness of a project not so much by what comes of it, but rather by what becomes of you because of it.”

I find this so compelling. It feels helpful to ask yourself, what becomes of me because of my most challenging trials?

Because God’s Torah is grounded in real life, we find the wilderness years answering this question in sobering ways. This week’s portion finds the demise of rebellious figures who seek to seize power. Among their most audacious claims is to call Egypt ‘a land flowing with milk and honey’(Num. 16:13). That’s what they’re saying about Egypt! In recent weeks, we’ve heard ongoing murmurings that romanticize Egypt (Num 11:5, 14:2). What has become of the Children of Israel because of all of their complaining? All of this praise of their slavery in Egypt points to a state of mental slavery.

Today’s noblest causes and efforts – the exertions over which you continuously break a sweat – what are they making of you?

To be sure, this isn’t the only metric that counts. Many efforts hold their own self-evident worthiness. But if an undertaking is good for you, then it’s more likely to be experienced as good for those closest to you.

Before we departed from our Yemin Orde visit, six teens who had just recently arrived from Ukraine, greeted us in a Hebrew language they’ve been struggling to learn. Our sages in teach, “According to the effort, is the reward” (Avot 5:23). May you find that your most challenging tasks make you a more trusting, responsible, promising version of yourself.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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