לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמֹר
Updated: Aug 31, 2019
לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמֹר וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לְהִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּה.
It is not your duty to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it. (Mishnah Pirkei Avot II. 21)
I recently read an editorial in the New York Times in which the author stated that she had finally come to understand something that one of her college professors had said over and over: “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.”
Okay – what?
Well, it would be great if real life allowed us to give our full attention, time and effort – not to mention our very best – to everything that we care about. But, we know that this kind of commitment of our resources is just not possible. We want to be the very best parents that we can be, but we must live with our “good enough” parenting. We want to be the very best professionals that we can be in our workplaces, but we know that compromises will need to be made along the way. We want to be the very best spouses/partners/significant others, but sometimes we are forced to prioritize something - or someone - else (see references to parenting and professional lives above).
And, of course, we want to be good citizens. We read the news and we wish that we could fix all of the problems that we see in the world around us: environmental issues, workplace issues, homelessness, injustice, violence – the list, unfortunately, goes on and on. We often want to give up before we even begin. Remember, though, what the Jewish tradition teaches us: “It is not your responsibility to finish the work….” The Mishnah says, in effect, “Do not be overwhelmed – do what you can do and that will be enough.”
Similarly, to go back to that not so tongue-in-cheek statement from that unknown college professor: if something is worth doing and you can’t do it all, then just do what you can.
Maybe you can’t leave your job and family to attend a march for a cause that you feel is important. Can you write a letter? Talk about it with your friends? Inspire someone else?
Maybe you’re living in a drought prone area and you have a new baby. Each load of laundry fills you with guilt about all the water you are using. Can you save what’s left in your teakettle to water your plants? Can you let your lawn dry out?
Maybe you really want to get involved in women’s issues of pay equity, or childbirth mortality in lower income populations, or a woman’s right to choose - but between job and family you feel like you are barely keeping your head above water. Can you donate money? Negotiate a good contract for yourself? Encourage your spouse in her/his/their negotiations?
Sometimes one small thing is all we can manage.
This blog will be about doing what you can for this tiny planet on which we live. Each month, I will suggest small ways that we can make a positive environmental change. Even if all you can manage is one thing, that one thing will have a positive impact. Imagine if everyone did just one small environmentally helpful thing – how much better would our environment be? Moreover, it can be stunning how much impact one individual’s minor contribution can make over the course of their lifetime. I hope to offer some statistics along the way to show how one small change in our buying habits, or our cleaning routine, or our food storage routine, or many, many other choices that we make can have a very great - positive - environmental effect.
Before I write about making anything from scratch, I am going to try it out myself. I won’t endorse particular products, but I will tell you about environmentally friendly products and industries, and some of my experiences with the ones I try. I already know that everything I try will not necessarily work for me and for my work/life situation – but maybe some of these things will work for you. To that end, a few notes about me and my life at this moment: I am an empty nester, so I have more time on my hands than someone with children living at home. I am also a working professional, and my workflow changes (a lot!) on a seasonal basis. At some times of the year, I can try out lots of potential environmentally positive things, but during other times of the year my job takes up almost all of my time. Part of the purpose of this blog will be to discover how much I can do when I am seriously time-crunched, as well as to remind myself that anything worth doing is worth doing poorly too.
Helping me with this blog will be my daughter-in-law, Amanda. Amanda is a millennial, newly married and a full-time graduate student. She has a very full plate, and her priorities are not always the same as mine. Sometimes, then, this blog will take different approaches to the same environmental issue, or toward work-life balance.
I do want to offer one important caveat to those of you who decide to follow Amanda and me on this journey – especially to those of you who decide to try out some of hers/mine/our endeavors for yourselves: Some level of commitment to some level of inconvenience will be necessary. The grocery store, online ordering, etc. are set up for our convenience – and this is really nice. They are not set up by and large, however, with an eye toward environmental awareness and/or impact. It will take some effort on your part, or cost you more money, if you decide to try to make a change or two - which brings me to the second half of that Mishnah quoted above: “It is not your obligation to finish the work,” but “Neither are you free to desist from it.”
We do have an obligation to this world, and to our families and communities and most importantly, l’dor vador– to the generations to come. What will we be leaving them?
You may already be finding that the best way for you to fulfill your obligation is by raising strong, self-confident children who care about our world and our community; or by loving your spouse/partner and helping to give that person the strength to do good work; or by supporting and empowering your friends in the good work that they do. You are probably already fulfilling the second part of the Mishnah in a very significant way.
Yet, here we are, asking you to consider taking on one more thing.
Do not be overwhelmed - do what you can. Together we will make an enormous difference.