Since October, each week, I have written and posted a commentary on the parshat ha-shavuah, the assigned Torah reading for the upcoming Shabbat morning service. And no sooner has one blog been finished and emailed off then I have to start thinking about the next one.
The New York Times recently carried an article on Milan’s upcoming spring Fashion Week. The title ran something like: Design. Plan. Produce. Execute. Wow. Do it all over again. To be sure, no sooner is one season’s clothing line in stores before fashion houses begin tooling up to design and produce the next year’s offering.
Such is the endlessly recapitulative nature of so much of human activity.
Mythology tells of Sisyphus, King of Corinth, who so angered the gods that he was sentenced to roll an immense bolder up a hill only to watch it roll back down and then have to repeat the task again and again through eternity. Thus the word sisyphean – a word meaning an endlessly repetitive and unavailing labor or task.
This Shabbat Vayechi we complete our reading of the Book of Genesis and next week we head off again into the Book of Exodus – a task we do annually at this time of the year as we read through the Torah cycle yet another time. So much of what we do is repetitive, but is it sisyphean?
The Mishnah states and the passage is repeated daily in the morning service: These are the obligations without measure whose reward too is without measure, deeds of which it can never be said “I have done enough.” Check out the list and you will see that these are acts of moral rectitude, compassion and caring that though repeated over and over again they never fall into the category of ‘done enough.’ They include honoring father and mother, performing acts of loving kindness, attending the house of study, consoling the bereaved, and making peace where there is strife. With respect to these mitzvoth it is also a case of: Design. Plan. Produce. Execute. Do it all over again.
Do such actions make a difference? In faith, Judaism proclaims that in fact they do. They actually repair the world.
So it is that when we get to the end of the reading of any one of the five books of the Five Books of Moses we say: chazak chazak v’nitchazek – be strong, be strong and let us be strengthened. So that we will have the koach, the strength and the resolve to act with goodness and then do it all over again.