This Shabbos we will continue our learning into the second perek of Pirkei Avos. The Mishnah I would like to explore is the second to last one in the chapter, Mishnah 20 (in some editions Mishnah 15).
רבי טרפון אומר היום קצר והמלאכה מרובה, והפועלים עצלים, והשכר הרבה, ובעל הבית דוחק
Rabbi Tarfon would say: The day is short, the work is much, the workers are lazy, the reward is great, and the Master is insistent.
There is a great amount of wisdom to unpack from this short statement of Rabbi Tarfon.
The day is short – The day here refers to our lives (Rabbi Ovadia MiBartenura). The Chida points out that the text states that the day is short, not that the amount of time is short. This is an important inyan. It should be well engrained into our minds that our time on this earth is finite. If the Mishnah stated that we have a short amount of time to complete our Divine mission in this world, it may cross our mind that we can postpone this “work” to a later date. The following Mishnah tells us succinctly “Lo alecha hamlacha ligmor, velo atah ben chorin lehibatel mimenah”, that while it’s not our job to complete every iota of work on the Heavenly to-do list, this does not yield us creative license to desist from anything at all.
Yet, the work is much. Torah is vast, and there is no shortage of mitzvos for us to complete. Our task in the world should be so dear to us that we should feel as if we only have a day to complete it.
The workers are lazy. It’s not entirely our fault. Sometimes, when we’re engaged in learning, it gets tough and we become disenfranchised. An acquaintance told me of how they began the new Daf Yomi cycle with gusto, and coasted through Maseches Brachos. Maseches Shabbos saw them constantly behind 10-15 dapim. By Eruvin, they were done. We say to ourselves “I’m not a talmid chacham. Why am I doing this? I can’t do this.” Even when we think we’re overcoming this laziness, we are not always immune to it seeping into our holy work.
Additionally, we’re human beings who have human needs and desires. Rabbeinu Yonah writes that when Moshe Rabbeinu was on Har Sinai, he didn’t sleep for the entire 40 days while he was with Hashem. When you are privy to such an audience, how can you think of your own needs? We need to sleep, to eat, to drink. Our needs don’t just dissipate if we do not give into them. In additon, the world trains us to work toward these deadlines. When one is under the gun, they can either steadily work toward their goal or cram everything in until the final stroke of the clock. Klal Yisrael have a far off deadline. Why put off until 120 what we continue doing today? The word of God takes no vacations.
The reward is great. We know of the immense treasures of Olam Haba as a direct response to our action in Olam Hazeh. It’s hard for us to fathom the true reality of this reward. Olam Haba is packed with more amazing amenities than the fanciest Pesach program, but we don’t get a list of what’s there. The reward is indeed great, but it’s not always easy to connect to something so great that we have no information about.
Finally, the Master is insisting. Our Master has high expectations of us. He has a lot invested in us. He gives us life and sustains the entire world. We are His treasured nation, a nation of tzaddikim as it says in Yeshayahu and quoted in the hakdamah to Pirkei Avos. Every morning as we wake, the first thing we do, before wiping the sleep from our eyes or checking our phones, is recite Modeh Ani. The prayer ends rabah emunasecha, great is your Emunah. YOUR emunah? In what? WE believe in God – what does God believe in?
All of us.
Every morning he returns our souls to us so we can continue the plans that He set out for us. There’s a lot going on in our lives, but among the cacophony and clutter, we cannot lose sight of the ultimate goal. We were brought into the world in order to engage in Torah and mitzvos, to serve the Creator with diligence. We cannot drop the ball. After all, the Master is waiting.