13 Mar 2015

Vayakhel-Pekude 5775: Job Well Done

“Instruction does much, but encouragement everything.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

While we review the manufacture of the Mishkan this week, we also read of a nation that contributed wholeheartedly, with assets[1], time, energy and skill[2], towards building a domain in which we could commune with G-d. The instructions were precise, and we are told that the people contributed with such verve that they had to be told not to bring any more![3] Again and again, we read that what was done was in accordance with G-d’s command[4]. The people had done what they were meant to do, and they did it well[5].

Now Moshe saw all the work, and behold, they had made it as G-d had commanded, indeed, they made it properly… (39:43)

There are three words at the culmination of that verse, that I believe teach us an essential lesson about how we respond to those with whom we live and work, who have done what they were supposed to do: Vaybarekh otam Moshe — and Moshe blessed them. Moshe made a point of blessing the people for their effort and excellent work, even though it was what they were expected to do. Moshe understood that the key factor in encouraging and facilitating great work is to acknowledge it. Moshe’s blessing was an essential validation. Whether fine actions are obligatory or voluntary, they continue when recognised and are met with positive affirmation.

We are inspired when we are recognised for work that we do well, because it affirms that we are part of a responsive and conscious world and that our contributions mean something. It signals to us that we make a difference with our positive investment and when we know this we are motivated to continue and do more. But there is an undercurrent in many environments that believes quite the opposite. We often think that praise is neither necessary nor deserved by those who have accomplished something that is incumbent upon them to do. Worse, we feel that praise, even in response to one who does more than is expected, is counterproductive to growth. We fear that an accolade will impede any future drive to excel. Modern analysts, however, reinforce Moshe’s approach[6]. While it is true that when performance is poor or requires improvement, praise is the incorrect response, exemplary performance only repeats and improves when met with positive response. The added recognition and encouragement in Moshe’s blessing is a beautiful and highly encouraging consummation to hard work and great effort that all the people put into the Mishkan project, and it highlights the appropriate response to a job well done — even when the job is obligatory.

Many of us have matured in social settings where we have learned to believe that if we extol good work, we will ruin any future excellence or further achievement. The tragedy of this mentality and approach to mentoring is that it steadily destroys the inner drive of a person and, if left to continue, crushes the dignity of the human spirit. Most of us can probably recall a teacher, a mentor, or a friend who said no more than a few words of encouragement to us, or who noticed something positive about us, and in doing so, kindled within us significant periods of enthusiasm and creativity. In many cases such encouraging words can turn a life around. Throughout our lives we seek to discover whether our being in this world matters. We seek responses from those around us that teach us about the nature and impact of our presence.

We would do well then, to take our cue from Moshe and bless our children, students, employees, family members, or co-workers for their positive achievements. Good work enhances our lives, and celebrating it is the best way to ensure that it flourishes.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joseph Dweck


[1] 35:5-9,22-24

[2] 35:10,25-26,30-35; 36:1

[3] 36:4-7

[4] 35:4,10,29; 36:1; 38:22; 39:1, 5,7,21,26,29,31,32,42,43.

[5] 39:43 – ״כן עשו״ – “They did it properly.”

[6] Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2013/03/the-ideal-praise-to-criticism