Feb 28 2019 DVAR TORAH

Rabbi Ceitlin 270x306
Rabbi Yehuda Ceitlin

Often at social events, people will open a conversation with, "Nice to meet you. What do you do?" The innocent question is meant to make conversation with a stranger, but it also points to an attitude Americans have towards work.

Not too long ago, the prediction was that as our work day became shorter and our labor easier, our identities and sense of fulfillment would be shaped by our family life and hobbies.

What happened instead was that work evolved from a means of material production to a means of identity production, says Deren Thompson, writer for The Atlantic. He identified this evolution as "a kind of religion" that he called "workism."

Thompson argues that while religion leads people to put their faith in an intangible and unfalsifiable force of goodness, work is tangible, and success is often falsified. He says that deifying work is a recipe for outright misery, and it might explain why rates of depression and anxiety in the U.S. are "substantially higher" than they were in the 1980s, according to a 2014 study.

The Torah, in this week's reading of Vayakhel, warns of that in the instruction: "Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have sanctity, a day of complete rest to the Lord."

The 18th-century Torah scholar known as the Ohr HaChayim notes that the Torah uses the word "tei'aseh" - that work may be done, instead of the word "ta'aseh," meaning that work shall be done.

The explanation given is that though humans were created to be productive and creative, work is a means to an end. The purpose of working is to allow us to lead a meaningful and fruitful life - it is not a commandment in and of itself.

The six days of the week are followed by Shabbos, a holy day of rest, allowing us to reconnect with our inner self and strengthen our true identities.

So the next time you meet a person at a cocktail party, perhaps the line you might say, "Nice to meet you. Please tell me about yourself..."