Thinking of a calling as a job sure way to succeed

In ancient Israel, Jewish farmers were obligated to give portions of their harvest to members of the tribe of Levi (the tribe not given an inheritance in the land of Israel, rather supported by the entirety of the Jewish people on behalf of their spiritual positions within the nation). A certain portion was to be given to the Levite and a certain portion to be given to the Kohen. What’s notably fascinating is that each individual Jew retained the right to give their crops to the Kohen or Levi of their choice (a choice known in the Talmud as Tovat ha’na’ah).
You can imagine the potential pitfalls of such a system. Shlomo, the uber-popular Kohen, might be rolling in the wheat and barley, while Simcha, the introverted, lesser-known Kohen, might have little to nothing to bring back to his family! Would it not make more sense to create a communal “Levi pot” for all the farmers to deposit their gifts into, and to subsequently divvy up this communal pot in such a way that ensures that each individual Kohen and Levi gets their appropriate share? Such is the question of the great 18th century Hungarian sage, Rabbi Moshe Schreiber (1762-1839), most commonly known as the Chasam Sofer.
The Chasam Sofer suggests that the Torah’s interest in such a system was to have the Levites, the designated teachers of the Jewish people, illustrate a most powerful lesson in faith and trust in God through their own life examples. For their lives would serve as constant reminders to anyone who would come in contact with them, that as much as we might imagine our hands as the sources of our wealth, it is God Almighty who ultimately determines and provides for one’s livelihood. The Levites, so to speak, would have to walk-the-walk, not just talk-the-talk. And with the Levites’ help, this palpable spirit of faith in God’s providence would — God willing — spread throughout the land.
Unlike the Chasam Sofer who understands the primary function of this economic system to be for the sake of the Jewish nation at large, I’d like to suggest that this system also serves to motivate the Levites themselves. Let me explain:
The Levites were called upon to teach and inspire the nation in the service of God. This calling was deeply ingrained in the spiritual DNA of the tribe which had already produced such great Jewish luminaries as Moshe, Aharon, Miriam and Pinchas. Now, a calling in life is certainly a special gift. To align one’s life with a calling is a blessing, for one’s life is elevated, exalted and meaning-laden. But, for all the good that comes with an inner calling (that voice deep-down that rises a person from complacency into action for the sake of some greater good) there is a lurking danger.
For, even as everything is swell when one’s inner call-to-action is heard loud and clear, one’s meaningful productivity on fire, but what happens when that inner call to action ceases to be, or is quieted? When the natural bi-product of that quieted voice expresses itself in naturally limited, sluggish and un-inspired efforts. To have one’s primary source of meaning in life rise and fall like a yo-yo according to the volume of an inner call can drive one insane, or at least mentally and emotionally exhausted. And just as important, what will be with the holy work that needs to be seen through on a day-to-day basis? Certainly the needs of the nation need to be attended to on a consistent basis, not based on the inner whims of individuals in positions of influence!
I wonder if it was for just this reason that the Levites were not paid out of a communal pot. Without the guarantee of sustenance, the Levites would have no choice (quiet inner voice be damned!) but to turn their calling into what can essentially be called a job: mingling and getting to know as many people as possible, teaching these people Torah, and praying that the people they came in contact with would reward their efforts with the gifting of their crops.
It is undeniable that even when one is blessed with innate pedagogical senses and abilities, the business of teaching is notably tiring work whose fruits often take years to realize. Teacher burnout, then, becomes a very real concern affecting the individual and community alike. By turning the Levites calling into a “job” as well, it would become that much easier for the tribe called upon to teach to heed their innate inner calling, and the community at large would undeniably benefit from the attention garnered by what can be seen as nothing short of the benefits of capitalism in motion. For there’s hardly anything that can get one out of bed quicker than the knowledge that one’s children’s bread is squarely dependent upon the actions one chooses to take. And there is little that can motivate a person who is guaranteed a fair share.
The Chasam Sofer is correct in saying that how much the Levite would receive at the end of the day is largely out of his control. God would be the ultimate arbitrator of that. Yet, there is also no doubt that the Levi can aid in the process as well, by putting forth his best effort, his hishtadlut, and being a light amongst the masses who were to feed him.
During this high holiday season it’s worth spending the time to not only discover one’s particular inner call to action, but to similarly turn that call to action into a “job,” with all of the accountability that comes with a paycheck. If your calling lies in the area of Torah study, don’t rely upon your own drive to ensure daily study. Rather, get a study partner, a chevruta, and establish times of study during the week (For, it’s much easier to rationalize to oneself why tonight’s learning isn’t going to happen than it is to ruin another person’s expectations!). Similarly, if you find your passion in the area of service to others, take the initiative to go the extra step of signing up to be on the board of an organization or volunteer to steer a committee or program. “Jobs” might add some stress to your life, but they are also the surest way of guaranteeing that your inner calling sees the light of day!

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