Roberto Clemente’s Lesson in Job Clarity
Roberto Clemente, one of baseball’s most iconic figures, was playing outfield late into the 1968 season against the Houston Astros. The Pirates were no longer contenders, which meant that that game had no statistical meaning. A ball was hit deep into the outfield. As Clemente raced back, it seemed that the ball was going to hit the wall way over his head but that didn’t stop him from propelling himself toward the wall. Speeding at a forty-five-degree angle he collided with the wall at the same time that the ball hit it, two feet above his head. In a post-game interview, a reporter asked, “with only three games left in the season, your team can go no further this year. Why did you try so hard to make that play? Was it worth the potential harm you might have done to yourself?” Clemente was puzzled and explained: “I am not paid to win pennants. My job is to catch the ball. I tried to catch the ball. I was trying to do my job.”
What do people say when they have a job or task they aren’t looking forward to? A common reaction is, “it’s not very glamorous, but somebody has to do it.” Which means, “this is really awful and meaningless but I have to do it.” But is there another—more positive—way to view it.
One of the most seemingly mundane and boring jobs in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem was the daily removal of the ashes from the burnt-offerings.
The Kohen shall don his fitted linen tunic, and he shall don linen breeches on his flesh; he shall separate the ash of what the fire consumed…on the Altar, and place it next to the Altar. (Lev. 7:3).
It seems odd that the Kohen not only wears a special garment, but that it also needs to be fitted. In addition, explains Rashi, all priestly garments must be custom tailored to fit each individual Kohen according to his physical measurements. Why mention it here, when talking about the mundane act of sweeping ashes? Couldn’t it have been taught in conjunction with a more prominent service or offering?
When the Torah tells us the Kohen’s clothes have to be custom tailored (for that particular service) it is hinting to us that the job is also custom made for the person doing it. The Kohen who cleans the ashes on a given day is not merely doing another job, he is doing a job tailor made for him. Wearing an ill-fitted garment might give the impression of lack of precision. What appears to be the most trivial of jobs (cleaning the ashes) is a job that must be done and therefore a Mitzvah and should be taken seriously. The job is tailor-made for the individual and so too are his clothes.
What’s your job—the one that only you can do? Is it taking care of your elderly parents or taking care of your children? Is it being an understanding parent to your teenager who is causing you much grief? Is it being an understanding spouse or friend? Is it stepping up to take responsibility for a worthy cause? Whatever it is, inevitably it comes with many menial tasks ranging from changing diapers to driving to pick up a prescription. Whatever it takes to get to the goal can be as vital as the goal itself and might take focused commitment and even self-sacrifice.
The Kohen’s fitted garment reminded him of the importance of the seemingly meaningless job of collecting the ashes and ingrained in him the idea that every needed task should be viewed as significant. Next time you sigh when having to do something you deem unimportant, realize that if it is the need of your wife, husband, parent, child, or friend, it is not only worthy of your attention, but also worthy of your being motivated because you were the one selected that task. Realizing this not only makes the assignment more enjoyable, it also helps to strengthen your relationships. We all crave commitment in our meaningful relationships and every time you do a seemingly trivial or boring deed for someone meaningful in your life, you demonstrate commitment to the person and the relationship. People often ask, “how can I get the love I want in this relationship?” The idea above might be one of your most effective tools in attaining that which you most crave.