Labor Day

August 29, 2014

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, August 29, 2014.

Labor Day

This is the Shabbat of Labor Day Weekend! Labor Day, of course, is an American holiday first established as a Federal Holiday in 1887. Even though it’s associated with a long weekend holiday with picnics and swimming and “Last Splash” of going to pools and beaches, it started as a holiday celebrating the accomplishments of labor and labor unions: minimum wage, 40 hour work week, the end of child labor, collective bargaining, and more.

What is the Jewish concept of “labor?” There are two words in Hebrew for Labor/Work: Avodah, and M’lachah. In the Talmud, and other early holy legal books, the word “Avodah” is used to refer to “Holy Work” – i.e. the sacrifices in the Temple, and, eventually, the prayer service. The ancient Rabbis tell us: “The world stands upon three things: upon Torah, upon Avodah (Sacrifice/Prayer), and upon acts of loving kindness.” Of course Avodah can also mean work, self-sufficiency and industriousness. The pioneers of the Second Aliyah, the wave of immigration to Israel 1904 – 1914, felt that Avodah was key to creating a new homeland. Pioneers felt that they had to be productive in order not to live on charity and to build the land and sustain themselves. Frequent songs emphasized the work ethic: “Koom, bachur atzeil... v’tzei la’avodah” (Get up you lazy boy, and go out to work!)

The other word “M’lachah” was often used by the rabbis to mean something more cosmic: “Lo Alecha HaM’lachah Ligmor, V’Lo Attah Ben Chorin L’Hibatel Mimennah – It is not up to you to finish the work, but you are not free to ignore it.” It is up to us to make the world a better place, even though each individual isn’t capable of doing it all by him/herself.  So, on the Shabbat of Labor Day Weekend, let’s think of the place of hard work in our lives, in our history, and in our society.

Shabbat Shalom