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Just a job

When is a job more than just a means to earn a living? Is it when we embrace it as a calling, something beyond mere monetary compensation? This question delves into the essence of work, touching upon the deeper motivations that drive us. While incentives and rewards are vital for our daily pursuits, there exists a realm where work transcends its conventional definition.

To explore this, let’s have a look at the actions of the Jewish tribal leaders during the collection of donations for the construction of the Mishkan in the desert. G-d had commanded all Jews to donate money, materials, and skill for this project. The Torah says that the donations far exceed anyone’s expectations, to the point that by the time the tribal leaders came around to making their own donations, there was nothing left to contribute.

Their justification was that they would wait until the end of the collection drive, wait for everyone else to donate, and they would then fill in whatever was missing. On the surface, their mistake was underestimating the generosity of the Jewish people. They were certain there would still be plenty for them to donate, and they were caught off guard when there was nothing left. In the end, they were “thrown a bone” so to speak, and were told that all twelve of them together can donate the precious stones for the High Priest’s garments.

But the deeper problem with their attitude was in how they viewed their function as leaders. A true leader knows that anything that is accomplished by their followers can be attributed to their leadership. The problem with these leaders’ approach was that because they assumed their followers wouldn’t fully follow through, they viewed their own contribution as only being what they fill in afterwards.

Their mistake was in viewing their position as leaders as just being something that they do. As dedicated as they were to their followers, and as committed as they were to leading their flock — in fact, all the donations their followers gave came as a result of their leadership — they failed to recognize that as their own. They expected there to be something left at the end for them to contribute themselves, and that would have been what they viewed as their own achievement, not what their followers gave.

That attitude meant that they expected only their contributions to be uniquely associated with themselves, while the contributions of their followers were not given in their name, so they got seemingly no credit for it. But had they truly seen their position as leaders as being about getting the job done rather than about themselves, they would have never been concerned with the fact that there was nothing left for them to donate. Had they recognized the bigger picture instead of just their own benefit, they would have celebrated their followers’ generosity and not been caught off guard.

To rectify this, once the leaders recognized their error — not only in waiting until the end but also in misjudging their role as leaders — when it came to bring offerings to dedicate the altar, they were the first in line. The purpose of the altar was for all Jews to bring their offerings to G-d, so by the leaders inaugurating the altar they demonstrated that they had re-evaluated their function as leader and were prepared to go all in.

It was no longer just a job but their entire essence was about leading their people.

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