A peasant was once laboring in the field, harvesting his wheat. He proceeded with vigor, his sickle cutting through stalk after stalk of grain. A count driving by saw the grace and energy of his cutting strokes and was struck by its beauty. “Can I hire you to work for me?” he asked the peasant.

“Thank you, but I have my own field,” said the peasant, refusing the offer.

“How much can you earn from the sale of your grain?” asked the count.

“Five hundred ruble.”

“I will give you a thousand ruble if you work for me.”

Unable to refuse the offer, the peasant agreed. The count told him to present himself at the palace with his sickle at ten o’clock on the following morning and drove on.

At ten, the peasant came to the palace and was ushered in to the count’s drawing room. “Now cut wheat,” the count said. “so I can watch your graceful movements.”

“But there is no wheat,” the peasant answered.

“So swing your sickle as if there were. I’ll pay you the thousand ruble I promised you. Start cutting.”

At first the peasant was pleasantly amused. It was far easier to cut imaginary wheat in the palace than to sweat under the hot sun and cut real grain. But slowly, he began to tire. After an hour, he told the count that he wanted to quit. “Why?” asked the count. “Aren’t the work conditions here better than out in the field?”

The peasant had one simple answer: “When you don’t see the fruits of your labor, you don’t feel you’re doing anything.”

A sense of worthless effort is one of the hardest things for man to bear, something no amount of money can recompense.

We all have the potential for achievement, and a mission for which we were brought into being to fulfill. There is nothing more satisfying than working hard and seeing that mission blossom into fulfillment.

Parshas Chayei Sarah

This week’s Torah reading describes Abraham as being “old, advanced in years.” The Midrash notes the seeming repetition and explains that there are some men who are old, but do not appear advanced in years, and others who appear advanced in years, but are not old. Abraham’s advancement in years paralleled his age.

On a simple level, the Midrash is speaking about physical appearance: There are some older people who look young and some younger people who look old. But there is a deeper point to the teaching of the Midrash: often people function on a level of maturity far below their chronological age. What it says on the person’s birth certificateis one thing, but the degree of intellectual and emotional development he shows may be something else entirely. Indeed, he might be a white-bearded child. Abraham, the Midrash teaches, grew as he aged. His personal and spiritual development went hand in hand with the passage of time.

Chassidus develops this concept further. Abraham “advanced” into “his years.” He put himself into the days that he lived; each of his days was filled with a deepening of his connection to G‑d.

To explain: Any one of us who has to take tests knows what it is to cram. You try to cover an entire course in two weeks. Or in business, you know the end of the month is coming and you try to push in a few more sales to improve the bottom line.

There is something unnatural in such an approach. Try cramming the growth cycle of a crop on a farm: not working for most of the season and then plowing, sowing, watering, and harvesting in a month. Wouldn’t be very successful, would it?

Well neither — in the long term — is cramming for anything else. What was remembered for the test is forgotten two weeks later. For a business to be maintained, sales must be steady.

The same thing applies spiritually. Too often, we cram. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, suddenly we get very involved. We like to focus on peak experiences. What Abraham teaches us is to take each day one day at a time, and to live it to the ultimate. Not to have occasional spiritual heights, but to relate to G‑d earnestly each day, to take that day seriously and use it in the fullest and most complete way possible.

There may be some who think that living such a life is drab; they are afraid of consistency lest it become monotonous. But those who emulate Abraham’s example appreciate the energy and vitality it brings. For in truth every day is filled with a variety of different experiences. When a person focuses his attention and relates to each of the events and every person he encounters thoughtfully, his life becomes filled with genuine color and variety. Each day contributes something different and new.

Looking to the Horizon

In his commentary to the Torah, the great Jewish philosopher and mystic Nachmanides writes that each of the seven days of creation is paralleled by a millennium in the spiritual history of the world. For example, the first day is associated with the creation of light, an unbounded source of positive energy. Similarly, in the first millennium of existence, animals reached immense sizes; men and women lived for hundreds of years and received manifold unearned G‑dly blessings.

The second day was characterized by the division of the waters. Similarly, the second millennium of existence was characterized by an awareness of the gulf between man and G‑d. And it was permeated by severity — the flood and the dispersion of humanity at the Tower of Babel.

The third day of creation was characterized by the emergence of dry land and the creation of plant life. Similarly, the third millennium saw the emergence of spiritual life within the world with Abraham’s discovery of G‑d, the giving of the Torah, and the construction of the Temple.

And so the cycle continues until the seventh day, which is Shabbos, and the seventh millennium which will be “the day which is all Shabbos and rest for life-everlasting,” the era of the Redemption.

If we extrapolatethis concept to chart a millennium in a twenty-four hour microcosm, it follows that at present, we are already more than three-quarters into the sixth millennium, that is, three-quarters of the Jewish day — which begins at sunset — has passed. It’s like the beginning of Friday afternoon.

Now ask anyone in a traditional Jewish household what a Friday afternoon is like. They’ll tell you that you can sense Shabbos in the air. It’s what’s on everyone’s mind and what everyone is busy preparing for. That’s what our spiritual climate is like now. That’s why the Rebbe told everyone to wake up andbegin preparing, that the time for the Redemption has come.