Our Routine

A chassid in the galoshes trade once asked his rebbe to bless his faltering business. Seeking to calm the unduly worried chassid, the rebbe said, “I have seen feet in galoshes, but I have never seen a head in galoshes.” The chassid gathered at once that he was overly invested in the unimportant.

Likewise, many of our activities just need to “get done.” They are not the goal; they are the means to a goal. For example, our first task when we wake in the morning is to dress. We don’t get out of bed to dress; we get dressed to go out and do what we need to do. The same goes for eating breakfast and driving to work: these are simply things we get done in service of our goal.

So what do we wake up to do? Some will tell you they get out of bed to go to work, but for most that is not true either. We might enjoy our work, but if we didn’t need to be there, we would likely take the day off. The primary reason that we go to work is to earn money to pay our bills, so we can live. It’s something we need to get done in order to do what we need to do.

But why do we live? Are we here for ourselves, or is there a deeper purpose?

To Do

G‑d made us so that we could serve Him. That is the reason we get out of bed. That is what we do. Everything else—waking up, getting dressed, eating breakfast, driving to work, earning money—is what we get done in order to do what we are here to do.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy the things we get done, or that we must pay them little heed. If we don’t pay attention to what we eat for breakfast, we won’t have the proper fuel to do what we woke up to do. If we don’t enjoy our downtime, we won’t have the relaxation and focus necessary to return to work. Accomplishing the things we need to get done requires attention and care. They aren’t negligible; they are important items on our daily agenda, without which we cannot do what we need to do.

On the other hand, these activities don’t rise to the to-do level. Once we know what we are here to do, we can appreciate it and take it seriously. When we realize that we are here to give charity or to pray or to chant kiddush, that this was the reason we woke up in the morning and went through our day, we “put our head into it”—we invest ourselves in that action. We take our time, give it our fullest attention, value it and derive immense satisfaction from it.

To Get Done

We spend more time on the things we get done than on the things we do. This is the nature of things. Take going to school, for example. You wake up, get dressed, eat, drive, park, lug your books, enter, greet friends, take your seat, endure roll call and sit through an hour’s lecture, during which the teacher repeats much information you already know in order to set the stage for new information. Once it’s over, you collect your books, say goodbye, drive home and do homework designed to review and retain what you learned. The entire exercise took four hours, but it took only three minutes to learn the new piece of information that you came to learn.

Suppose you went to school but failed to learn anything. You would have spent your entire day getting stuff done, but you would have accomplished nothing. Doing the one thing you came to do justifies the effort it takes to get to that moment.

When you realize that this one task or moment is the purpose of your entire day, you invest yourself in it, doing it with gusto and joy. At that moment, the entire day clicks. It all has a point.

Removing Ashes

We can now gain insight into a curious passage in the Torah. Before delineating the laws for sacrifices in the Temple, the Torah veers off and describes the ritual for removing excess ashes from the altar. Removing excess ash is important, but why does it precede the sacrificial rite?

The Torah teaches us that before offering a sacrifice, one must complete many preparatory tasks. The ashes must be cleaned, the fires must be stoked, the offering must be purchased and brought to the priest, and the knives must be laid out. These are all critical details without which a sacrifice cannot be offered.

The Torah tells us that the kohen wore special garments while removing the ashes, but the priestly vestments were worn only when offering sacrifices. This one detail speaks volumes. It tells us that none of the preparatory tasks are as important as the sacrifice itself. The sacrifice is the goal; these are just the means. They serve the goal and enable us to fulfill it.

When we do things that need to get done, we “wear special garments”—we don’t dismiss them just because they aren’t the primary goal. Yet we also don’t treat them like we treat the primary goal, just as the priestly vestments weren’t worn for the preparatory tasks.

It’s easy to mistake the many preparatory tasks for the goal, because they take up so much of our time. We spend much more time on the means than on the goal. We wake up each morning with a long to-get-done list, whereas the to-do list is fairly short. The Torah reminds us to focus on our goal and never confuse the means with the end. Let’s do what we are here to do!