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The Labor of Life

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“Man was born to toil,”[13] says the verse—a fact of human nature readily affirmable by asking yourself a simple question: How many happy retirees do you know?

That nothing worthwhile comes easy in life—that, indeed, anything that does come easy is ultimately spurned as worthless—is G-d’s greatest gift to man. For it is this twist of human nature that enables us to experience achievement and fulfillment in our endeavors.

Chassidim would illustrate this point with the following story:

A wealthy nobleman was once touring his estate and came upon a peasant pitching hay. The nobleman was fascinated by the flowing motions of the peasant’s arms and shoulders and the graceful sweep of the pitchfork through the air. He so greatly enjoyed the spectacle that he struck a deal with the peasant: for ten rubles a day, the peasant agreed to come to the mansion and display his hay-pitching technique in the nobleman’s drawing room.

The next day, the peasant arrived at the mansion, hardly concealing his glee at his new line of “work.” After swinging his empty pitchfork for an hour, he collected his ten rubles—many times his usual take for a week of backbreaking labor. But by the following day, his enthusiasm had somewhat waned. Before the week was out, he announced that he was quitting his commission.

“I don’t understand,” puzzled the nobleman. “Why would you rather swing heavy loads outdoors in the winter cold and the summer heat, when you can perform an effortless task in the comfort of my home and earn many times your usual wages?”

“But master,” said the peasant, “I don’t see the work.”


Adapted from the teachings of the Libavitcher Rebbe by Yanki Tauber.

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[13]. Job 5:7.

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