We generally accept that work is an important part of life. We spend 14 years or more in school with the promise that the more we learn the better career we may be able to find. Once we do find that great job, we begin preparing for retirement.
From a spiritual point of view, our work is never done. Spiritual work and physical work are connected—spiritual growth cannot be attained unless we take positive actions. Kabbalists teach that there is always work to be done; our job never ends.
When people feel motivated to achieve a greater spiritual awareness they study, meditate, and surround themselves with like-minded individuals. All of these things are wonderful ways to connect to the Creator and to your higher purpose. Solitude and meditation can lay a strong foundation for deeper connection and transformation. However, true spiritual growth only happens through work in the physical world.
Simply put, helping an elderly person with their groceries, feeding a hungry person, or volunteering to tutor a child is just as likely to spark spiritual growth as meditation or prayer. “Our interactions with the physical world, and with our physical selves, are our real opportunities for encountering and eventually transforming the desire to receive for ourselves alone,” says Michael Berg. “Rather than avoiding this encounter, we should take full advantage of it.”
The following parable illustrates this point:
There was once a young peasant man working in the field pitching hay into a wagon when the rich nobleman who owned the land happened upon him. The landowner was impressed by the young man’s hard work. He so deeply enjoyed watching him that he offered the peasant a gold coin for each workday spent “pitching hay” in the nobleman’s parlor. The peasant needed to only pretend to work, showing off his excellent labor skills for the nobleman’s entertainment.
The peasant agreed to entertain the nobleman; after all, a gold coin was twice the wages he would receive for a whole week of work. But after three days spent indoors swinging his empty pitchfork gracefully into the air, the young man told the nobleman that he would like to return to his work in the field.
Incredulous, the nobleman asked, “Why on Earth would you want to do heavy labor day after day, when you can make more money pitching your fork effortlessly in the comfort of my home?”
“Well,” replied the peasant. “I would prefer to work. Here, I’m not really doing anything.”
This tale reminds us how valuable work is to our sense of self. It may seem desirable to find oneself in a position where work isn’t necessary, where one can pretend to work and cruise through life. To the nobleman, payment in gold was a worthwhile reward. To the young peasant man, work was the reward.
This is true in our spiritual work, as well. Committing to the road of spiritual transformation is not an alternative to the challenges of physical reality. Spiritual growth only happens in the physical world. “But doing this from a kabbalistic perspective,” says Michael Berg, “involves more than just running out to perform ‘good deeds.’ True sharing requires a basic shift in the way we see our lives and our relationships to the people around us.”
It starts with seeing the value of work on a daily basis. Whether seemingly insignificant or massive, each action makes a difference. Each action is a chance for us to make an impact on the world and the lives of those around us. And each act is just one step on the longer journey towards spiritual transformation.