This story is based on a true account reported by the Associated Press. The details have been added for your reading pleasure.
Daniel Kuch woke up on a clear Monday morning, and decided he was not going to work. Not only was he drained from his all-night warring in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, but he was supposed to get drug tested that morning, and he knew he was going to test positive for everything but rabies. He hit the snooze button for the third time, and thought about what he would do instead of work.
First he would go back to sleep for another three hours. Then he would call up his best friend, Kurtis Johnson, and together they would figure out a good excuse to use when he called in absent for the day. Kurtis could always be relied on for a good excuse – he was the one who, in third grade, taught Daniel to eat chalk to spike a fever and get the day off. Once Kurtis came up with a great call-in excuse, Daniel would be free to have a leisurely breakfast of waffles, ice cream and Bud-Lite
After that, he and Kurtis would go fishing with their new poles and a few six packs of Bud Ice. They would come home, fry their catch in Miracle-Whip, wash it down with Budweiser Classic, and watch reruns of “Great Fishing Tournaments of the Eighties” all night long (Brad Hunnigan was the last real fisher! No one knows how to reel em’ in with style anymore! What? No way! Vince McElmore always pulls in the bigger catch! Hey man, I’m not talking about size, I’m talking about claaaass!). Ahhh… what a day.
Everything was going better than daisies in the sunshine. Daniel slept until 11:45, Kurtis was only too happy to come over, and he even brought back the Dale Earnhardt t-shirt he “borrowed” in October. Midway through break-feast, (3 beers in) the topic of an excuse came up. A light bulb lit up in Kurtis’ head.
“Why don’t you let me shoot you in the arm, and then call the police and tell them that you were shot in a drive-by shooting!” The utter simplicity of the plan, the sheer brilliance, left Daniel kicking himself, wondering why he was never the one to come up with the good ideas! All the regular excuses are so clichéd. Who believes you anymore when you say you’re sick, your great uncle is dying, or your car broke down?
Sure enough, Kurtis went to his truck, took out the .357 Magnum from the glove compartment, told Daniel where to stand, and reassured him that he would only make a tiny surface wound, and not hit any major veins, bones, or muscles. “Will ya’ stop worrying, I’ve done this a thousand times! Oh, and can you pass me my beer?”
An hour later the Franklin, Wash. police officers showed up at the emergency room to take a report from Daniel. He explained to them that he was jogging near the highway, 3 miles north of Pasco when someone shot him from the back seat of a black car. Something smelled fishy, and Franklin’s Finest were determined to ferret out the fabrication. Firstly, Daniel didn’t look like much of a jogger. With a healthy beer belly, foul beer breath, jeans, work boots, and a flannel shirt, there was a bit more than some Lululemon between him and the jogging stereotype. A couple of questions turned into some pointed prodding and finally some intense interrogation. Soon enough the truth emerged.
The deputies arrested Daniel Kuch for telling lies to officers of the law, and Kurtis Johnson for reckless endangerment. The official police spokesman made a statement saying, “This is definitely not a good way to get out of work.”
What is the Torah’s view of work? Is it something we need to endure for 40 years so that we can retire comfortably? Should we try to get out of it as much as possible (albeit without shooting yourself in the arm)? If we had all the money in the world would the Torah suggest that we retire as soon as possible and live out the rest of our life playing golf, tennis, and bridge?
“Shemaya says: Love work” (Ethics of Our Fathers, 1:10)
“Because man is born for hard work” (Job 5:7)
“Skin carcasses in the marketplace before saying I’m a great man, I’m a Kohen (and this is below me, I’ll live off of others’ money or public welfare)” (Talmud Pesachim 113A)
“Rabban Gamliel the son of Rabbi Yehuda the Prince said, Torah study is good with a worldly occupation, because the exertion put into both of them makes one forget sin. All Torah without work will ultimately result in desolation and will cause sinfulness”. (Ethics of Our Fathers, 2:2)
“When you eat the toil of your hands you are fortunate and it is good for you.” (Psalms 128:2).
When man first sinned in the Garden of Eden, part of his rectification process (we don’t believe in punishments, only in fixing mistakes) was: “Through the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread” (Gen. 3:19). Working is a medium in which we are productive, and we build the world around us. It is what keeps the human machine well-oiled and running properly. Humans, having unique spiritual and intellectual capacities, are refined through the hard work they perform. Just as the food they eat goes through processing (unlike the entire animal world that doesn’t prepare their food), so too, their minds and souls go through processing.
We often romanticize the idea of making enough money to retire at 35, but that would only be a rewarding experience if following retirement one would throw himself into some other worthwhile pursuit. Idleness, or the ability to play video games all day, is not viewed as a value in Jewish thought. The Talmud (Kesubos, 59B), describes certain tasks that even the richest person should do, not because they can’t afford to hire someone to do it, but because “idleness leads to insanity.” (Ironically, our story above is an example of insanity trying to lead to idleness!)
Clearly, one has to balance what percentage of their toil they put into spiritual pursuit, (such as Torah study), and physical work, (like pursuing a livelihood). But doing neither, calling in sick, dodging work like the plague, is clearly antithetical to the Torah view. As Jews, we love work, and are appreciative when we have the ability to do it.
I would love to write more on the subject, but I got some work to do, so I’ll sign off!
Parsha Dvar Torah
In this weeks parsha, Shmini, we read about the inauguration of the Tabernacle, and the first service ever performed by the Kohanim, the priests. For the seven days leading up to the inauguration, Moshe performed the service as a “dry run,” and in this parsha we read about the climactic moment when Aaron the High Priest is about to begin the service.
“And Moses said to Aaron, ‘Approach the altar and perform your sin offering and your burnt offering, atoning for yourself and for the people, and perform the people’s sacrifice, atoning for them, as the Lord has commanded.’” (Lev. 9:7)
One might wonder why was it necessary for Moshe to instruct his brother to approach the altar, wouldn’t that be a natural part of the performing the offerings? Rashi explains, “Moses had to order Aaron to do so, because Aaron was bashful and afraid to approach the altar. So Moses said to him: ’Why are you ashamed? For this you have been chosen!’” (Ibid.)
Moshe was telling Aaron that this was his role in life, his calling, and he shouldn’t be bashful, but should come forward and accept it.
The Arizal (1534-1572), the father of the Kabalistic renaissance, has another explanation, which teaches a beautiful lesson. He explains that Moshe was telling Aaron that he was chosen because he was bashful and ashamed to approach the holy Altar and perform the service. Had he been the kind of person who would approach the altar with a more cavalier attitude then he would not be the one for the job. But precisely because he had bashfulness and humility, and he didn’t feel worthy of the job, he was chosen for this mission.
Today, this idea still rings true. Some of the greatest leaders of the Jewish people, both in Israel and abroad, are people who practically had to be dragged out of the study halls and classrooms and brought to their positions of leaderships. They saw themselves as simple teachers, and did not feel like they should be leaders in any way. But, as Moshe said, “For this you have been chosen!”
This week’s parsha begins with a description of the offerings and ceremony involved in inaugurating the Tabernacle. For the seven days leading up to the inauguration, which was done on the first day of Nissan (the first month in the year), Moshe did all the temple services dressed in a simple white tunic. Throughout this period no heavenly fire came down to burn the offerings as this was not yet the real service. Finally, on the eight day, Moshe gives Aaron the green light and tells him in front of the whole nation to bring special inauguration sacrifices.
Aaron brought the various sacrifices and the people stood expectantly, hoping to see some sign that G-d was happy with the dwelling they built for Him, and was going to manifest Himself there. Nothing happened. Then Moses and Aaron went into the Tabernacle (until now they had been in the Courtyard), and prayed, asking that it be G-d’s will the He bring His Presence into the Tabernacle. At that moment, a fire came down from heaven and consumed the offerings on the Altar, indicating that G-d had come down and assumed a dwelling place in the Tabernacle.
The Jewish people greatly rejoiced at this wondrous sight. Caught up in the joy of the moment, two of Aaron’s sons went into the Tabernacle bearing an incense offering. A fire came out of heaven, entered their nostrils, and burnt them to death. There are many explanations as to for why this happened. Commentators state that the brothers into the Tabernacle to do service under the influence of alcohol, and/or that they brought a sacrifice that was not commanded of them.
The idea behind both of these explanations is that we do not tread lightly around G-d or His dwelling place. A relationship with G-d does not flourish by our doing what we feel like doing, but rather by following the laws He sets up for us, and in the manner He prescribes. Aaron, after seeing his two sons die in the midst of this great celebration, does not complain, does not say anything, but accepts G-d’s judgment in silence. He is rewarded for this by G-d giving him a special prophecy. G-d tells Aaron that a Kohen is never allowed to serve in the Temple after drinking wine. G-d wants us to get joy from our service of Him, without needing or having any external stimuli.
After that, the parsha continues with a discussion of how the food remains of the sacrifices of the day were to be eaten. One of the salient points here is a disagreement between Moshe and Aaron regarding eating certain sacrificial parts. At the beginning of the disagreement the Torah tells us that Moshe got angry at Aaron and his sons, and chastised them for not eating some of those parts. Aaron explains why he didn’t eat them, and Moshe agrees with him. We can learn two things from this exchange. Firstly, we see how quick Moshe was to back down; he didn’t allow his pride to get in the way. Moshe was in it for the truth, and had no personal stake in what happens. The Sages also teach us that we see from here that when someone gets angry, they forget their learning and make mistakes.
The last part of the parsha deals with the laws of kosher, the spiritual diet of the Jewish people. Some of the many benefits of kosher are that it always reminds us of who we are. (I have had the opportunity to travel to dozens of locations around the world, but I always remember that I’m a Jew because I can’t eat what everyone around me is eating, I have a special diet.) Here is a basic rundown. Mammals have to have split hooves and belong to the ruminant family (animals with multiple stomachs that send back their food from their stomach to the mouth for further chewing, also called “chewing their cud”). This includes cows, sheep, goats, bison, deer, and a few others.
Fish have to have fins and scales. Birds are different, in that the Torah forbids 20 families of birds, and allows all other families. Since we have lost most of our tradition of exactly what those families are, we only eat birds for which we do have a tradition regarding their kashrut status. We are then prohibited from eating most insects with the exception of some grasshoppers.
The parsha concludes with G-d telling us not to contaminate ourselves with all the non-kosher creepy crawlies and foods, because G-d is holy and those foods are spiritually contaminated. One way to view eating non-kosher foods is that it builds up spiritual plaque in the arteries that pump the lifeblood of our relationship with G-d. Besides what in the world could possibly be better than a good cholent?!? That’s all Folks!
Quote of the Week: Only those that dare, truly live. ~ Ruth Freedman
Random Fact of the Week: 1,013 buildings in the US have a sign that reads “George Washington slept here.”
Funny Line of the Week: Most people work just hard enough not to get fired and get paid just enough money not to quit.
Have a Charming Shabbos,
R’ Leiby Burnham