We've all come across people who are so devoted to their work that their health and personal lives suffer. A friend of mine once interviewed at a high-powered law firm; pay was great, opportunities for advancement unlimited –- depending on how long and hard one was prepared to work. He was seriously tempted to opt in when he noticed something interesting: every single one of the senior partners was divorced.

He chose to turn his back on the burnout factory and is now employed by a boutique firm; pay not so great but the atmosphere is calmer. He loves his colleagues and he gets to go home at a family friendly hour of the day.

Many people confuse employment as a method of providing oneself with the necessities of life, and transform it into a purpose of its own. Their self-identity is bound up with their position and paycheck and they do not, or cannot, perceive themselves as individual entities, independent of their work.


Others however are too lackadaisical in their attitude to work, neglecting their basic duties and responsibilities. I do not refer to those few who choose to mooch off society by refusing gainful employment, dole-bludgers in popular parlance, but rather to those, who perhaps from lack of confidence or drive do not live up to their potential.

There is a basic human requirement to be valuable; to leave the world a better place than one found it. We have all been created with unique capabilities and it is incumbent on each of us to respond to that responsibility. To aimlessly drift along your journey through life while ignoring greater opportunities to contribute to the greater good, is to willfully neglect the very purpose of your existence.

The Talmud relates that One of the students of the great sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (whose yahrtzeit —anniversary of passing— we commemorate on Lag BaOmer) left the study hall to make his mark in the world of business. Translating his Talmudic acumen into moneymaking skills, his wheeling and dealing soon brought him great wealth. Many of the other students of Rabbi Shimon, observing their erstwhile colleague's newfound riches, were tempted to emulate him.

Attempting to forestall a mass exodus, Rabbi Shimon led the malcontents to a valley on the outskirts of town and miraculously filled the area with gold coins. Rabbi Shimon offered his students the opportunity to take as much of these riches as their hearts desired with just the one proviso; whatever they took now would be held against their 'account' and be deducted from the spiritual 'riches' accruing for them in the world to come. Not one of them was tempted: turning their back on wealth and comfort, they raced back to the Yeshiva and threw themselves into their studies.

The average person has no way of correlating reward with effort. In an imperfect world we are forced to substitute money or other status symbols as a way of calculating the usefulness of one's personal contribution. For some, these symbols cease to be a means to an end, but become an end unto themselves.

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was a Kabbalist. Author of the Zohar and founder of the first system of mystic instruction he was blessed with the ability to reveal the true existential worth of each person or object. A Kabbalist's search for G‑dliness involves looking behind the veil of concealment and revealing the inherent spiritual effect instigated by our actions. From this perspective, gold and other baubles are revealed as mere playthings, totally overshadowed by the true purpose of existence; to bring G‑d to the world, and the world to G‑d.