Brachot 43

In his book ‘The Upside of Irrationality’ Professor Dan Ariely describes one of his research projects which sought to understand how people become attached to the things that they create.

The subjects of the experiment were asked to create origami frogs or cranes by following a clear set of instructions. These ‘creators’ were then asked how much they were willing to pay for their own work. Following this, researchers gathered another group of subjects called ‘non-creators’ who had not participated in the origami activity who were asked how much they were willing to pay for one of the origami paper frogs or cranes. By comparing these different price-points, and also comparing what each group would be prepared to pay for a professionally made origami piece, the study was able to conclude that people fall in love with what they produce. Moreover, even when what they produce may be of poorer quality than that of a professional, they value the end result of their labour more than a product that they have not put any effort into its creation.

I was reminded of this research today when learning today’s daf (Brachot 43b) containing a teaching of Rav Zutra Bar Toviya. In seeking to interpret Kohelet 3:11 Rav Zutra remarks that ‘the Holy One, Blessed is He, made everyone’s craft appear beautiful in their eyes’, which is explained by Rashi to mean that, ‘even a tanner [whose workplace has a strong smell] has a pleasant attitude towards their work, and this experience [of people having a fondness for what they do] is part of how God created the human experience in order that the world does not lack essential products or professionals’.

Of course, there are times when people don’t find satisfaction in their jobs because they are in the wrong job for them. However, at other times a job has the possibility of ‘appearing beautiful in their eyes’, but what is missing is either the opportunity for them to be a ‘creator’ (in whatever dimension), or the ability to understand how their efforts have led to concrete outcomes.

So as we begin a new week here are two simple messages: (a) To those of you who feel good about the work you do, take a moment to thank God for the blessing of the fulfilment that you have, and (b) to those of you who do not feel good about the work that you do, try and consider whether you are in the wrong job and if so how can you or others help you make change. Alternatively, perhaps you are simply missing a component in your work such as your ability to create or admire the output of your labour.

Either way, the message of Rav Zutra Bar Toviya is a simple one – that your work is an expression of God’s will, and you should feel happy and take pride in the work that you do.