In several of our previous posts, we have asked: how can we turn work into an avodah (service)? How can we elevate the time spend in the office to something more meaningful?
There are a number of ways to do this. We can:
- Rethink our concept of cause and effect: we think that we work hard, and the result is that we earn money, get promoted, and progress in our career. But really, all those actions are simply our hishtadlus, the effort we are required to put in to be eligible to receive these gifts from Hashem. We will return to this in a later post.
- Use our parnassah for the right reasons: to support our family and our community, and to give tzedakah. We will also develop this idea in another post.
- Conduct ourselves in such a way as to demonstrate to others – whether Jewish or not – that there is merit, and indeed truth, to a Torah-observant life: the so-called kiddush Hashem. It is this third topic that is the subject of this post.
It is noteworthy that, in so many areas of life, Jews are held to a different standard to the other nations. For example:
- When I was first looking for a job, I interviewed at a law firm in London. Looking through my CV, which referred to a number of Jewish youth group roles and volunteering projects, the interviewers had but one question for me: perhaps my religion – which was obviously important to me – made me too honest for this role?
- On a macro-scale, Jews often look at the world’s condemnation of Israel and scratch their heads: how is it that the world can hold the Jewish nation to such a double standard?
I recently heard an idea from Rabbi Dovid Roberts which, I believe, provides an insight into this phenomenon. Jews are commanded to be a ‘light unto the nations’ – an example to other peoples as to how to lead their lives. The verse states:
You shall not desecrate My Holy Name, rather I should be sanctified among the Children of Israel. I am G-d who makes you holy.
We are implored by Hashem to conduct ourselves on a higher plane, and expect more from ourselves. I might be that the other nations sense this obligation on a subconscious level, and as a result hold us to a different standard. Whatever our political views, we can certainly take a personal message from this – to seize any and every opportunity to behave in the correct manner and make the right decisions.
In many ways, the workplace offers a perfect opportunity to do just that. A few real-life examples:
- Working with others who are less observant or not Jewish gives us a chance to explain and demonstrate Jewish concepts. With Pesach recently behind us, I recently filled in my Sale of Chometz Form at work. When my colleague asked me what I was doing, I had two options open to me: to shy away from explaining this foreign, seemingly crazy idea of contractually selling our bread products for an 8-day period, or to take the time to explain this practice. From discussing this idea with colleagues who have been in a similar position, it seems that the latter path more often than not has the effect of earning your colleague’s interest, as well as their respect. Just remember to prepare yourself when they return with further questions…
- I have a friend who is committed to kiruv, despite working as a professional in the City. Whenever he gets a chance, he will help out by taking time off work and joining a trip to Israel, Poland, or wherever the group is headed. He initially had some difficulty explaining this to his colleagues at work. Why was it that he was willingly sacrificing his hard-earned holiday, to take a group of schoolchildren round Poland, only to return to work exhausted?! Surely this time is far-better spent on a beach?! However, once he took the time to explain how important this work is, and what results it is achieving, his colleagues at work developed a new appreciation and respect for him. Such concepts don’t always have to be fully understood to be nevertheless respected.
- On a sadder note, I have other colleagues who have unfortunately experienced anti-Semitism as work. A medical student I know was recently told by his prospective patient that he would rather not receive medical treatment than to be helped by him. It is important to consider how we might deal with such issues which still projecting a true and positive picture of what it means to be a Jew.
Taking a moment to reflect, I am sure that many stories like the above come to mind. We welcome you to share your own experiences below.
The Working Jew
 Shabbos drasha by Rabbi Dovid Roberts, 7 May 2016.
 Vayikra, 22:32.