Shemos: Jews and Tools

In parshat Shemos we are told that the Egyptians “afflicted” or burdened the Jews in Egypt by making them build cities of storage of Pithom and Ramses. It brings to mind the Jackie Mason routine that Jewish men are not very handy and have to call the super of the building to change the lightbulb.  The proof is the Shikkerdovid does not own a wrench, a hammer or a screwdriver.  Traditionally,  Jews were herders and lived in tents. Today,  Jews are accountants and not Local 2 Ironworkers.

The burden or affliction  mentioned would not merely be the hard work, but it was foreign to the Jews. Something that they were not accustomed to.   But maybe the hard work and burden imposed by the Egyptians has significance.  In Chapter 1, pasuk 11 the Torah says the Egyptians set over Taskmaster to burden them.  Rashi comments on “burden.” Rashi merely says: “Burdens for the Egyptians. ” Is that not obvious? The Egyptians are not going to burden the Jews with work for others. Why does Rashi have to say the work for Egyptians.

The answer gets back to Jackie Mason.  The Jews were not used to this work. It was not part of the their culture or their ethos. At this point maybe the Egyptians wanted to eradicate the ethos, traditions and values of the Jews. The Egyptians did this to stamp out their Jewishness and inculcate ideas of Egypt.

The Shikkerdovid would like to weigh in on this: hard work is no sin. Owning a tool box is no sin.  The question is who are we doing it for and maybe more importantly What are we doing it for.  It is okay to be a farmer, an ironworker, a car mechanic (all things tranditionally not Jewish). But we must do these things for the purpose of maintaining Jewish values.  It is okay to wear jeans and workboots as long as the work is done with the purpose of maintaining Jewish values.

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