Can We Please Finish the Job? - עקב

Tuesday, 11 August, 2020 - 9:03 pm

Can We Please Finish the Job? 

Beginnings bring along a fresh sense of optimism and excitement. When we embark on a new task, when we tackle a new challenge, there is an excitement that motivates us to push forward. I will speak for myself. It is much easier for me to start a project than to finish it. Easier for me to write a paper than to edit it. And, I’ll confess, easier to begin playing with my child than to finish. Eventually burnout sets in, the excitement evaporates, my attention moves on, and completing the task seems tedious and a drain on my energy. 

Just a few weeks before he was to pass away, in his parting words to his beloved people, Moses stated: 

The entire commandment that I command you this day you shall keep to do, that you may live and multiply, and come and possess the land that the Lord swore to your forefathers. (Deuteronomy 8:1)

What is the meaning of “the entire commandment” (kol hamitzvah)? The simple meaning is that Moses was referring to the entire body of the six hundred and thirteen commandments. Indeed, that is Rashi’s first interpretation. This interpretation, however, is somewhat problematic, because at that point, when the Jewish people were still outside the promised land, there were many commandments they could not have fulfilled on “this day”. How then does the verse state that the Jewish people will merit to enter the land by keeping the “entire commandment”? Rashi therefore offers a second interpretation, which explains that “the entire commandment” refers, not to all the commandments, but rather to the totality of a single commandment. As Rashi explains:

A midrashic explanation is: If you have started a mitzvah, finish it, because it is attributed only to the one who completes it, as it is said, “And the bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel had brought up from Egypt, they buried in Shechem”. But did not Moses alone occupy himself with them to bring them up? However, since he did not complete the mitzvah [of burying the bones], and [the children of] Israel did, [this mitzvah] is accredited to their name.

Beginning the commandment, is the easy part. Here Moses is reminding us of the importance of concluding the task. The people who eventually brought Joseph’s bones back to Israel, completing the cycle, returning Joseph to the land from which he was kidnapped more than two centuries earlier, could not claim that they developed the idea to perform this good deed. It was not an expression of their own creativity and kindness. But they are the ones who get the credit for they are the ones who completed the task. 

This is true in our life as well. We may feel far more inspired in the beginning of a project, but it is not truly ours unless and until we conclude those final touches and complete the endeavor. And, this is true in the span of history. The great giants of our past, our patriarchs and matriarchs, sages and scholars, mystics and philosophers have revolutionized the world and  began, and continued, the Jewish mission of transforming the world into a Divine garden of goodness and kindness. They had the vision, passion and focus, that we could never match. But it is we who will receive the credit for ushering in the era of redemption with the coming of the righteous Moshiach, because it is we who will complete the task.

(Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos vol. 19, Eikev Sicha 2)


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