The Imperative of Work
Sigmund Freud teaches us that we achieve our well-being through our work and intimate relationships. The conclusion of the book of Exodus this Shabbat is a case in point with regard to the former. Coming out of Egypt, from a state of political bondage and inner slavery, the Jewish people were akin to a spoiled child. Everything that we had, was given to us gratuitously from above by G-d: the miraculous delivery out of Egypt by way of the Ten Plagues, the splitting of the sea, the manna from the sky, and more.
Paradoxically, this was a period of supreme national discontent. The Jewish people constantly complained to Moses about anything and everything. However, during the better part of the last five portions of the book of Exodus, which we complete this Shabbat BH, miraculously, there are no complaints. The reason the Jewish people stopped complaining is because they were given a communal project, namely – to build a sanctuary, a sacred dwelling place where they could commune with G-d’s presence. The project of collectively building the sanctuary was the first time that G-d expected the Jewish people to independently work hard, bring forth contributions from their own possessions, and exert much effort and resources in order to bring into fruition something of merit.
In other words, the people did not complain while they were building the sanctuary, because they were too busy doing something worthy with their time. This teaching is very much pertinent for Jewish parents today. We, like the Almighty, shower our children with countless gifts, and we shield them with monetary protection from the harsher realities of life.
However, by doing that, by providing for our children’s each and every need, we also run the risk of raising kids who constantly complain when they feel that they lack something, and who fail to appreciate all the things that they are being given by their parents without exerting any effort.
Accordingly, the tacit message from the concluding part of the book of Exodus is as follows: don’t disable your child by turning him or her into a spoiled brat who only receives handouts and fails to appreciate. Fortify your child by expecting him or her to achieve certain things on their own merit. It is not only sound educational advice, it is a mitzvah. For without arming our children with the ability to stand on their own two feet and fend for themselves in the stormy sea of life, we are failing our spiritual vocation as parents, which is to cement our children’s character and prepare them for the road ahead.