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Thought for the Day: We Work and Get Paid... A LOT!

I believe (as in, I know it happened to me) that most children have heard and all parents have said: "Don't worry about what your brother/sister/cousin/Timmy is doing!  Just worry about yourself!"  This is, in fact, a fundamental dimension of avodas HaShem and the basis of every good Jewish marriage.  In fact, as has been noted, there is not word for "rights" in classic Hebrew (aka Lashon haKodesh/the Holy Tongue); only responsibilities.

Therefore it is somewhat surprising that in that thanks we proclaim at a siyum (and some of us each morning on leaving the beis medrash, as recommended by the Mishna Brura) includes a statement about them: heim ameilim v'anu ameilim.  heim ameilim v'einam m'kablim s'char; any ameilim u'm'kablim s'char/They work and we work.  They work don't get paid; we work and do get paid.  There are at least two obvious questions on this.  First, it sure seems that they get paid for working!  Why would they work otherwise?  The Chafeitz Chaim explains that they get paid for their accomplishments, but not for their ameilus/exertion.  The second question is... why do I care what they get?

I actually didn't think of the second question (as obvious as it seems now), until I saw the movie "Flight of the Butterflies" at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry with my grandchildren, which details the quest of Dr. Fred Urquhart and his wife Norah to discover the migration path of the monarch butterfly.  In a nutshell, Dr. Urquhart spent much of his childhood (as a butterfly curious boy; I'm guessing he wasn't one of the popular boys) and then his adult life (as a research scientist; no clue how popular he was with the other nerds) studying the migration patterns of the monarch butterfly.

In a nutshell, Dr. Urquhart, who lived in Canada, noted that monarch butterfly migrated south for winter.  Not a shock, of course, from Canada.  However, as he researched the issue, he found that all monarch butterflies always migrated south... seemingly no matter where they were: Canada, Minnesota, and even Texas!  All those millions and millions of butterflies had to be going somewhere, but they just seemed to disappear "into the South" for the winter and re-appear in the spring, heading north, and dropping eggs from Texas to Minnesota to Canada.

To solve the problem, Dr. Urquhart first devised a tagging system and then martialled hundreds of "citizen scientists" over five decades to tag thousands and thousands of monarch butterflies.  Dr. Urquhart spent years plotting -- with string and push pins -- the observations reported to him my mail.  Finally after nearly 50 years of single-minded dedication (and a good bit of luck, including local myths about butterflies), Dr. Urquhart ascended a 10,000 foot peak in the remote Sierra Madre mountains of Michoacan, Mexico and beheld millions and millions of monarch butterflies adorning every tree and rock in sight; wintering till their return.  One member of the ascent party was a National Geographic photographer, who snapped a picture of Dr. Urquhart just moments after he picked up PS-397... a butterfly who had been tagged in Chaska Minnesota and had flown over 2,000 miles to that mountain peak.

I don't think I can appreciate how he felt at that moment, but I get choked up just imagining it.  A lifetime of dedication all came together at that moment.

Suppose he hadn't found that butterfly, nor any tagged butterfly.  It's still a lifetime of work and dedication.  It's still a monumental discovery.  But it's still lacking closure; certainly no one would have made a movie about it.  And Dr. Urquhart would have died an unfulfilled man.

Heim ameilim!  They work hard; very, very hard.  Without closure, without success, however, they get nothing.  Anu ameilim!  For every, single moment of learning, or doing chesed, or saying a bracha; for every word of gemara and rashi and tosefos -- understood or not -- we get much more than Dr. Urquhart got for his lifetime of work; much, much more -- infinitely more!

Why do we care what they get?  Simple; it's impossible to imagine what we get.  At least by appreciating what the can achieve with a lifetime of work we can get a barely sideways glimpse of what we are earning with each and every moment of your Torah lives.

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