Terry really didn’t feel like mowing the lawn. Nevertheless, he cranked up the mower and got to work. For the first half hour Terry grumbled. During the next half hour, he was silent. An hour into the job, he began to whistle and then to sing. When the job was done and his lawn looked like a golf green, Terry was so elated he was sorry his work was finished.
Just occasionally, when we undertake a much detested duty, we find the task sweeping us along in a rapture of enthusiasm. Wouldn’t it be useful if we knew how to approach all our tasks so they lift us and carry us along to completion as a cresting wave carries the ebullient surfer towards the shore?
The problem is that our heads tell us to perform necessary assignments, while our hearts sink at the prospect. One way to help our heads defeat our hearts is to make the task inject energy into us, rather than drain it from us.
The Bible yields a clue. Stephen Langton, a thirteenth century Archbishop of Canterbury, divided the Five Books of Moses into the system of chapters most of us follow today. Using only his own logic, he set where chapters would begin and end.
However, there is a God-given system which divides the Torah into fifty-four sidrahs, each containing several chapters. We gain glimpses into God’s mind by identifying the comprehensive theme of each sidrah. This motif which is always linked to the official name of the sidrah, can be easily missed when one of Langton’s chapters unwittingly includes the end of one sidrah and the beginning of the next.
Chapter four of the book of Numbers describes a simple set of instructions for counting the families of the three sons of Levi: Kehat, Gershon, and Merari. But, when we look at the book of Numbers according to the sidrah system, a different story emerges.
The second sidrah of the Book of Numbers actually opens with verse 21, right in the middle of chapter four. The sidrah’s opening topic is the counting of the families of two of the three sons of Levi, namely Gershon, and Merari. Their brother Kehat’s counting takes place earlier, at the end of the first sidrah. Why are the three families separated by a sidrah break?
We get a clue from the fact that each sidrah is named, not numbered. The sidrah that includes the two families is named Naso, which means carrying. This sidrah includes an account of six wagons being allocated to the Gershonites and Merarites for transporting the vessels and components of the Tabernacle. Intriguingly, no wagons are assigned to the family of Kehat who was to carry the Ark of the Covenant upon their shoulders.
Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that there are different types of carrying. Gershon and Merari needed wagons not only because of what they carried but because of a subtle flaw in their attitude. Sometimes their assignment felt like a burden. In contrast, the Kehatis lifted the Ark with joy in their hearts and a song on their lips. Not only was the Ark no burden to them, but it actually provided them with extra energy, in effect carrying them. No wonder they couldn’t be included in the same sidrah as their brothers’ families, in the sidrah called “Carrying.” They weren’t carrying—they were being carried and therefore needed no wagons.
Similarly, in each of our lives there are daily responsibilities to discharge. Diapers need to be changed, products and services need to be sold, and arduous travel needs to be undertaken. What is in our control is our attitude. We can approach these tasks as burdens beneath which we groan and which drain away our energies. Alternatively, we can tackle them the way the ambitious athlete approaches a marathon or a gym workout. Launching ourselves at our tasks like happy warriors helps to turn these tasks into weightless opportunities which can carry us, giving us energy and joy.
I get joy out of transmitting ancient Jewish wisdom and am delighted at how many of you tell me that my book, Thou Shall Prosper, changed your attitude to work. Today is the last day to purchase it at our special sale price. Free shipping on orders over $49 ends today as well. I hope that my Bible teachings help you and those you love approach your responsibilities like the sons of Kehat, uplifted and energized.