Certain tasks tend to become mundane if you do them day in and day out. When it comes to home life, I wouldn’t mind never changing another dirty diaper or doing laundry again. At least the diapers will be out of our house in another year or less; no such luck with the laundry. In my work life too, there are rabbi duties that are – how shall I put this – less glamorous than others. Turning in payroll, catching up on email, meetings about programming. They are necessary, but in no way exciting parts of the job.
The good news is there are plenty of other daily responsibilities, like reading or singing at bedtime with my children and leading services or engaging in life cycle events, that are never dull, rote, or boring. They are exciting and inspiring each and every time. We all have tasks that we don’t relish doing regularly and those in which we find great fulfillment, and we can only hope they balance each other out.
Our parshah this week, Beha’alotcha, lands us with Aaron and Moses as they get into their daily requirements of their jobs. This section of text begins with instructions for the purification of the Levites as they do their holy work in the Tabernacle. We read about the first Passover sacrifice in the wilderness and how to celebrate Passover if we miss it the first time around. Then the text turns toward the Tabernacle, the Mishkan, and teaches us that God’s presence hovers over it in a cloud. Finally, Moses’s family – his father-in-law, wife, and children – return to join him and the rest of the Israelite nation on their journey through the wilderness.
It is in the return of his family to the camp that we learn about what unrealistic expectations have been levied against Moses. As the text begins, God tells Moses to talk to Aaron and have him light the lamps in front of the lamp stand in a certain way. And “Aaron did so.” There was no fight or frustration with this seemingly dull task he was required to do daily. Instead, Aaron just did it. The Vilna Gaon, an 18th century Talmudist, interprets this text to mean, “Day after day, year after year, Aaron’s attitude never changed. His work never became routine or boring. He approached each day with the same sense of reverence he brought to his first day.” That is to say Aaron found joy in the spiritual elevation of performing this task for God and his community.
I am blessed to have found a career that offers me considerably less ordinary routine and considerably more joy in the work that I do. Parshat Beha’alotcha is a yearly reminder to find joy not just in the obvious places, but also in the everyday tasks we are required to accomplish. Day after day Aaron did his job with joy. It was not an exciting job, but a holy one. Think about the things you do on a daily basis and how you might find joy, meaning, and perhaps a higher purpose in them. You might find that simply elevating the simplest tasks removes the mundane altogether. I haven’t made up my mind whether or not that includes diaper changes.