Written by Kerry Chaplin, Hillel at UCLA Rabbinic Intern
Anyone else looking for a job right now? A post-university job? A summer job? An internship? Me too. And it’s hard. Each position requires research, writing a cover letter, and reworking the résumé. Each requires patience, persistence, and humility. As the process drags on and as one opportunity, and then another, present themselves, and as other opportunities fall away, we start to wonder: For the sake of a job, what will I let go of? For the sake of a paycheck, will I let go of my work being fulfilling? For the sake of a paycheck, will I let go of my work having any real impact on the larger world? These questions lead us to doubt ourselves, our core values, and to wonder whether we have anything important to contribute to the world. The job search process often feels diminishing, but it doesn’t have to.
For the last several weeks, including this week, the Torah has laid out details of the biggest job the Israelites have ever taken on: the building of the Tabernacle, the Israelites’ traveling worship center and God’s dwelling place among them. The Tabernacle, perhaps painfully boring to us, is an enthusiastic endeavor for the Israelites. In fact, it is their first job, their first work, as a free people. The Tabernacle is a symbol of the Israelites’ new freedom — their freedom to worship God, their freedom to work with their own hands for their own sakes.
The people are so compelled by their enthusiasm for building the Tabernacle that they bring more and more and more materials for its construction. Their enthusiasm is so great and their gifts so plenty that Moses must turn them away, saying: don’t bring any more gifts! (#WhatNoBarMitzvahKidSaidEver)
And when the project is ultimately complete, Moses, too, becomes enthusiastic. The people had created the Tabernacle exactly as Adonai had commanded — and in his enthusiasm, and perhaps even surprise, Moses blesses the people.
According to a midrash, a rabbinic exposition of the text and related backstory, Moses blesses the people with the words of Psalm 90, a psalm classically attributed to Moses himself: “May the favor of Adonai our God be upon us; may the work of our hands fulfill us! May the work of our hands fulfill its purpose!”
Rabbi Menachem Meiri, a 13-14th century French scholar, describes this blessing: Moses blessed the people that their work would not only serve its purpose as a center for worshipping God, but it would bring them joy and fulfillment — that as free people, their work would be both effective and fulfilling.
This is the blessing we job seekers need to hear.
As we search for that next job or internship, or even that first job or internship, we need not be diminished as long as each of us remembers: I have work to do in this world that is both effective and fulfilling. I have a Tabernacle to build and I will enthusiastically bring all my gifts to build it. It will impact the world, if only a small corner of it, and it will remind me of my purpose on this earth.
This article is part of Ha’Am’s Friday Taste of Torah column. Each week, a different UCLA community member will contribute some words of Jewish wisdom in preparation for Shabbat.