CONVENIENCE AND PURPOSE

In a recent essay entitled "The Tyranny of Convenience," Columbia University Law Professor Tim Wu writes:

 

We err in presuming convenience is always good, for it has a complex relationship with other ideals that we hold dear. Though understood and promoted as an instrument of liberation, convenience has a dark side. With its promise of smooth, effortless efficiency, it threatens to erase the sort of struggles and challenges that help give meaning to life. Created to free us, it can become a constraint on what we are willing to do, and thus in a subtle way it can enslave us.

 

Vayakhel-Pekudei concludes the book of Shemot and the story of our redemption. It describes the detailed and arduous process through which the Jewish people worked to build a sanctuary for God's presence. (Simply listening to the description of the work during layning is arduous; can you imagine the work itself?) Nachmanides famously asks why the story of our redemption does not end with the crossing of the Red Sea or the giving of the Torah at Sinai. His answer focuses on the nature of true redemption, i.e. returning to the spiritual state of our ancestors.

 

Appreciating that "struggles and challenges give meaning to life," we might offer an additional answer. Upon settling into desert life, the Jewish people faced a grave risk. They had entered a state of convenience. Miraim's well provided water; the manna providing sustenance; the clouds of glory providing shelter. With so much smooth, effortless efficiency, the people faced the prospect of a new slavery - a directionless spiritual emptiness.

 

With God's command to build the mishkan, the Jewish people gained the freedom that comes from having purpose. In the act of giving of themselves to a great project, the Jewish people gained the self-worth and meaning that comes from meaningful work.

 

After a recent drasha on the topic of giving, a member of our congregation approached me with an insight. He quoted a survey that found that Jews worked harder to celebrate Pesach than they did for any other holiday. The same survey found that Jews enjoyed Pesach more than any holiday. He summarized the findings with the words of Pirkei Avot: l'fum tzaara agra - reward is in proportion to exertion. Building the mishkan was an inconvenient task. Pesach is truly an inconvenient holiday. May we rejoice in the opportunity that inconvenience affords us.