Why the Need to Sweat?

Rabbi Mendy Wolf
Based on Mamar 5666 Vhaya ki savo, and Ashrecha 5667 
From time to time we ask ourselves, why do we need to sweat in order to make a living?

Yes. We all know that “Bzeias apecha tochal lechem” is an outcome of eating the Eitz Hadaas. But, how does eating from the Eitz Hadaas lead to "sweating for bread"? Reward and punishment are supposed to reflect the deed. Perhaps a punishment prohibiting us from eating fruit would make more sense. Punishing humanity with "toil and sweat”, seems like a misplaced consequence? 

The answer to this query can be found, through exploring a fascinating phenomenon in nature:

Normally, growth comes when one is fit and strong. To carry heavy furniture, you need to eat well and exercise. You need a strong body in order to lift heavy weights. The same applies to learning; you need a clear mind in order to think. When you’re tired, you go to sleep. We don't find anyone saying, "Oh, I'm so tired! It’s a perfect time to brainstorm." Optimum functionality is a necessity to growth.

Nonetheless, when planting a seed, growth comes only when the seed is rotten. Rotting becomes the platform for growth.

The same phenomenon is found in creative thinking. Creativity comes at a breaking point. Suddenly, when least expected, creativity hits. Frustrating moments precede creative moments; creativity happens when it feels like ‘it is just not happening.’ The overwhelming sensation of feeling lost breeds a moment when suddenly it all makes sense.

Rotting and frustration demonstrate a dead end. Yet, for trees and novel ideas, they are the turning point. 

The Thrill of Creativity

Creativity is the common denominator between the growth of a tree and the birth of a brilliant idea. Creativity is unique. It doesn’t follow, it leads. It’s not dependent, it’s independent. It’s not continuing a story; it gives birth to a novelty, a story that has yet to be told.

You want to lead? You want to be creative? You want to feel like you came up with the idea?  You’ve got to first feel deeply frustrated!

Creativity can only happen once you recognize that there's a boss. Don't think you will just cruise along and make it happen. First, realize how you’ve come to the end of your amazing talents. You will almost come to the conclusion of “I can't continue”.  Then it will happen.

This is Hashem’s way of allowing us to recognize His existence from within nature. Hashem created nature in such a way that nature itself suggests that there is a boss. Nature screams out “I'm done,” and that's when creativity sprouts up. Nature recognizes its limits, and that's when it will grow. Novelty and creativity are G-dly energy that we tap into once we recognize that there is a G-d.

Sweating Therapy

The "toil and sweat” to make a living is nature’s circuit break to recognize our limitations.  We think that we can make it; that we can be independent people making a living. Nature itself forces us to recognize our boundaries. We get hit nine times on the head before we make it. We try many different venues and attempts, not knowing which one will succeed. Most of the journey is held in limbo, filled with uncertainty, feeling like it’s not happening. And then - after the sweat - it happens.

Recognize the boss and then it will happen.

That was Hashem’s direct response to the chet eitz hadaas: The sin was born by ignoring Hashem’s words; He said don't eat, we ate. We thought we can make it out on our own.

Hashem responded by imbedding in nature the concept of sweat. You can't sit on the couch and make a living. You've got to sweat. You've got to realize your limitations, that you cannot make it on your own; that you can only make it with “Me”. The sweat therapy helps us recognize how we need Him. It’s not a punishment, it’s a training process.


Sweating our way to Hashem

Sweat and frustration is part and parcel of completing a mitzvah. Mitzvos often demand physical labor, sweat and toil. In addition, many times we must fulfill a mitzvah even though we don't understand it.

What's the logic? Feelings should be our primary motivators. Feelings and appreciation are what connect us into everlasting relationships!

The “do it ‘just because’" and the sweat of a mitzvah are steps in the Creator-recognition training

Mitzvos are Hashem’s way of training each and every body part with recognition of His existence. Each mitzvah deals with a unique part of the body.  Tefillin for example train the hand. “Sweat mode” is an integral component in the training process.  Regardless of our mood, we put it on. The hand learns the ability to "push beyond its comfort zone". The hand now has the ability to do good things, although it won't feel like it. Perhaps the hand will now find it easier to give tzedakah.

It’s therapeutic. The first time it may be tough, but eventually it comes through.

Sweating is one of the unique traits only humans have. We can do things although we don’t feel like it. Angels only do things because they feel like doing it. They are forced to do it by their overwhelming feelings.

Humans Sweat. We have the ability to push. We throw ourselves into things. We just do it, even before the appreciation of it, in order to be a part of it.

Throwing is far more powerful then appreciating. It demonstrates where we belong, driving in the right direction.  If we want to belong, then we will belong. It won’t take long and we will start appreciating and even loving what we’re doing.

Think of someone who doesn’t want to go to work, and he pushes himself to go to work. That takes resolve and commitment. Eventually he will get into it. Pushing ourselves to do a mitzvah takes resolve and commitment. It should be respected! The sweat that is so essential in making a living is as essential in making a Jew.

Remember, sweating is the secret ingredient in creativity. The sweat for a mitzvah opens a connection to the Creator, to which there is no greater novelty. A creation being connected to the creator! “Sweat mode” brings about the recognition that we are not an equal in our relationship with Hashem; He is the lead and we are lucky enough to be able to connect to Him. 

Just as ‘sweating for a living’ helps humans recognize Hashem, so too, sweating for a mitzvah is Hashem’s unique way of helping Jews maintain our uniquely deep and dynamic connection with Him.