When Sarah was a freshman I told her I thought she was bored; that the towers of the university were too narrow for her. That was before she traveled to New Orleans to do Katrina relief; before the following spring when she organized her peers to work on the California/Mexico border; before she decided to join Teach For America, and before she organized a service trip – was it to Central America? – with her inner-city high school students. She is certainly not bored anymore. She tells me there is too much work to do.
According to Jewish tradition, “It is not for you to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.” Our mystics believe every soul born into this world represents something new and unique. We each have distinct gifts that we are called to direct toward repairing our world. It is our job as Jews to discern where the intersection between the world’s great needs and our individual talent’s rest, and to dedicate and rededicate our lives to that work — be it the work of easing suffering, improving literacy or welcoming the stranger. Indeed, the mystics go on to say, it is precisely because this is not done that the world is yet to be redeemed. As if to drive the point home, a first century sage, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai said, “If you happen to be planting a tree and someone says the Messiah has arrived, you should finish planting the tree and then go out to greet the Messiah.”