Omer 24: The Beautiful Work

Omer 24: The Beautiful Work

Day 24: Tiferet she’b’Netzach, Beauty in Endurance

Photo of an outdoor interfaith feed the hungry program with people serving one another food, illustrating a post about the work of social action and loving kindness


Rabbi Tarfon used to say, “It is not up to you to finish the work. But you’re not free to avoid it, either.” (Pirkei Avot, 2:16)


By “the work,” Rabbi Tarfon means the study of Torah. It’s endless—but that’s not cause for despair. People discover new knowledge and create new interpretations all the time. Endless Torah study is a feature, not a bug!

But when I read Rabbi Tarfon’s words, I think about “the work” differently. I think of “the work” of repairing the world. Responding to suffering. Resisting injustice. This work is never done.

When I put the two meanings of “the work” together, I finally get Rabbi Tarfon’s point. Endless reaching for the good is a feature of the world, not a bug. It is not a reason for despair, but a call to action.

As Mary Oliver says, “So, even if the effort may come to nothing, you have to do something.” (Read the full exquisite poem “For Example.”)


IDEAS: Do you think that being alive in this world means you have some ethical responsibilities? If so, what are they? If not, why not?

FEELING: When you contemplate how much “work” there is to do, how do you feel? When you reflect on what you have done? Or left undone?

PRACTICE: What acts of tikkun olam (world repair) and gemilut chesed (deeds of lovingkindness) are woven into your daily life?

GOD: Do you hold God responsible for the hard things in this world? Or for inspiring the good in the world? How do your answers affect your own spiritual experience?


These questions take off from the text above. And they also go deeper into the day’s reflections in the book Shechinah, Bring Me Home: Kabbalah and the Omer in Real Life.

There are many ways to explore these questions. You can: Tell a story from your own life. Give an example from a book or a movie. Write a poem. Analyze a concept. Offer a definition. Draw a picture. Sing a song.

New to the Omer? Here’s a guide to the theory and practice.

Image Credit: Surrey interfaith feed the hungry gathering, photo by Laura Duhan-Kaplan.

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