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Shir ha-Shirim IV: The Work of Desire

Another explanation: “Do you see a man diligent in his work,” this applies to Rabbi Chanina (the son of Dosa, a student of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai). A story is told that once, seeing the men of his town taking burnt offerings and peace offerings up to Jerusalem, he exclaimed, “All of them take off rings up to Jerusalem, and I am too poor to take anything! What am I to do?” He immediately went out to the desert near his town, and found a stone, which he went and chiseled and polished and painted, and then said, “I vow to take this up to Jerusalem.”


He wanted to hire some carriers, and said to them, “Will you take this stone up to Jerusalem for me?”

They said, “Pay us 100 gold coins and we will take your stone up to Jerusalem for you.”

He replied, “And where am I supposed to get 100 gold coins or even 50 to give you?” He could not raise the money then, so they left.

Immediately the Holy One, Blessed is He, placed five Angels in the form of man right in his way. They said to him, “Master, gave us five dollars and we will take your stone up to Jerusalem, only you must help us.” He bent down to help them lift the stone, touched the stone, and immediately they found themselves standing in Jerusalem.

He wanted to pay them but could not find. The incident was reported in the Chamber of Hewn Stone, the room in the Temple where the Sanhedrin sat, and they said to him, “It would appear, Sir, that ministering angels brought your stone up to Jerusalem.”

He immediately gave to the Sages the sum of money he had agreed to pay the Angels. (Shir ha-Shirim Rabbah 1:4)

This is a story of a man who is willing to move heaven and earth, “work diligently,” to bring and offering for God to Jerusalem. He had nothing of his own to bring, and he had no money. He went to the outskirts of the city and searched through the desert, and some say the garbage dump, until he found a stone, one, which he spent hours and days working, chiseling, polishing, and preparing to be an appropriate gift for God, until he had something he could bring to Jerusalem.

He “worked diligently” just to be able to bring a gift to Jerusalem. In this story, the main character differs from all those described in the previous midrashim, in that he did not work diligently at an obligation, but to express a desire of bringing an appropriate gift to God. He could not afford the “dark men” who wanted to overcharge him for their services, and merited, “Kings,” ministering angels, to help him bring his gift to Jerusalem through magic; he bent down to touch the stone and immediately found himself in the Holy City.

He was not satisfied until he fulfilled every aspect of his obligation, meaning, he took the money he had agreed to pay these “people” and gave it to the Sanhedrin.

This is the story of a man who has greater freedom than those described earlier in the midrash: they worked on a responsibility; he worked to fulfill a constructive desire.

He understood that even a desire to attach to God demands work and effort. Once he put in the necessary effort he merited movement in the very heavens until the ministering angels were sent down by God to help him carry his precious stone, his gift, and magically bring him to Jerusalem.

He wanted everything to be an expression of his effort. That is why he insisted on paying the Sanhedrin.

This midrash is describing the diligent effort necessary for the most free of people; the person with an opportunity to work to fulfill his desires. We must understand that in order to take full advantage of the gifts of Pesach and Shavuot, we must work hard not only at fulfilling our obligations, but when we have a constructive desire work just as diligently to make it a reality and to be sure that every aspect of our service reflects our work.

This is a time of deep and passionate desire to connect to God. Pesach, our season of freedom, is our chance to devote this diligent work to make our holy desires and aspirations a reality. This is the true “Work” of the Free Person.

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