The LORD gave this command to Joshua son of Nun: "Be strong and courageous, for you will bring the Israelites into the land I promised them on oath, and I myself will be with you." Deuteronomy 31:23
The Torah portion for this week is Vayelech, which means "and he went," from Deuteronomy 31:1-30, and the Haftorah is from Hosea 14:2-10.
From the time that we were very young children, we had a desire to "do it ourselves." We took great pride in the first time we tied our shoelaces or set the family dinner table by ourselves. As we grew older, we didn't mind being helped as much and for some tasks, we rather someone else did it for us!
However, according to Jewish teachings, at our core, we want "to do it ourselves." The majority of us enjoy feeling the self-satisfaction of a job well done.
This is because we are created in God's image and God is a giver, not a taker. Therefore, our essence wants to contribute to the world. Our innermost being doesn't want a handout. Consciously or unconsciously, we crave the opportunity to work at something and succeed.
In this week's Torah reading, God told Joshua to be strong and courageous as he led the children of Israel into the Promised Land. The Jewish sages teach that had Moses been the one to bring the people into Canaan, the conquest would have been virtually effortless. There would have been no need to be "strong and courageous" because Israel's enemies would have fallen instantly and supernaturally because of Moses' holiness. There would have been no fight, no hard work, and zero effort required.
Likewise, the "conquest" of the material world would have been effortless. The mission of the Israelites was to transform mundane living into a spiritual experience by living out the Word of God and to spread this divine light to the whole world. This spiritual feat would have been accomplished almost instantaneously with a spiritual leader like Moses leading the way.
However, this was not the will of God. In His infinite wisdom, God knew it was better for the Israelites to do the hard work ahead of them. The children of Israel needed to work hard at capturing the land of Israel and making it into a place of holiness. Only then would they truly appreciate it and feel good about what they had received.
We must always remember that our work is a good thing. Whether we feel frustrated by the work we need to do every day to make ends meet, or we feel intimidated by the work required to achieve a goal to which we feel called, we should embrace our work and not run from it.
God gave us the opportunity to contribute to His world as a gift, not a burden. Ultimately our work is its own reward. We live with more joy, appreciation, and satisfaction than if we had never put in any effort at all.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President