Mendy Kaminker

Why you SHOULD define yourself by your job

“Rabbi, I’m afraid I’ll soon feel worthless.”

“What”? I was sure I was missing something.

I was meeting with an individual with a very accomplished career. Many people admired him for his skills and success; what can make him feel that way?

“In a few months, I am going to retire,” he explained. “I am spending significant time thinking about life post retirement. I see how almost everything in my life has evolved around my career. I have invested years and years in it. And now, suddenly, it will disappear.

“I think the problem is that I defined myself by my job, and that was a big mistake.”

I was not sure how to respond.

Isn’t that something many of us do? After all, job is called occupation because it literally occupies our time. Often, we spent most of our waking hours at work. So it’s so easy to define ourselves through our career.

So should I simply say “hmm… you are right. Defining yourself by the job was a big mistake!”

Then a thought crossed my mind.

I reached for a small book. The book was “Hayom Yom,” a compilation of Chassidic sayings compiled by the Rebbe. I read one saying out loud, (written for 29th of Tevet):

“We are called ‘day workers.’ Day means light. Our work is to illuminate, to enlighten the world with the light of the Torah”.

“You defined yourself by your job, and you are not the only one who does it,” I shared my thoughts with him. “That’s okay, except that instead of defining ourselves by our professional job, we have to define ourselves by our lifelong “job” and mission.

“Our life-long mission is to be a candle, to bring light to the world. Every encounter with another soul is an opportunity to add light. And that “job” never ends. Wherever we are, every encounter we have – from a random one in the grocery store to a planned get together – we have the ability to be a candle and bring light to others”.

Our Torah portion is called “Beha’altocha”, “to kindle a light”. It was G-d commandment to Aaron to light the candles of the Menorah, and it is his commandment and empowerment to us: we have the inner flame.

We can also bring the divine light, the light of Torah and Mitzvot, to the lives of others, too.

May we recognize our own light and be a light to others.

About the Author
Rabbi Mendy Kaminker is the Chabad Rabbi of Hackensack, and an editorial member of
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