This week we learned the middah “work hard for what is important to you.” We learn our middah from the story of Ya’akov who worked hard to marry his beloved Rachel. Ya’akov fell in love with Rachel the moment he saw her by the well, but he was unable to marry her until he had laboured for fourteen years for his father-in-law Lavan. With our students, we spoke about goals that are so important to us that we would be willing to work very hard to achieve them. Students gave examples such as playing a sport really well, becoming a good artist or singer, or becoming friends with someone. We talked about how Ya’akov’s love for Rachel must have grown stronger over the years. Sometimes, when we work really hard for something, its importance grows for us. Certain tasks — like learning to play piano, figuring out a difficult math problem, or learning to ride a skateboard — might feel like a lot of hard work, especially at first. By working hard at our task, by sticking with it, and overcoming frustrations, we come to appreciate it even more. Sometimes we work hard for what we love; sometimes we love what we work hard for.
During our tefillah services we noticed that the word for work — avodah — is one of the most commonly repeated word in our daily prayer service. In the Siddur the word avodah refers to prayer — the ‘work’ we do in our relationship with God. Often we want prayer to feel like a spontaneous outpouring of the heart, a sign of love for God; when prayer doesn’t feel this way, we may feel frustrated and wonder what it is all about. It can be helpful to remember that prayer is avodah – ‘work’. In fact, it is the quintessential example of work that the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. Through doing the ‘work’ of prayer, we come to new appreciations of God, of ourselves, and of our community. Whether in our daily activities, our spiritual lives, or in our relationships with others, it is work itself that often leads to us to new depths of love.