Over the Rabbi’s Disk
Rabbi Howard S. Herman, D.D.
Taking Time to Change Your Life
Now that the High Holy Days are behind us and we look forward to holidays such as Thanksgiving and Chanukah, it is with great hope and anticipation that things will continue to “open up” for us – events where we can begin to celebrate together again as families and communities. The pandemic and safety concerns have derailed these simple pleasures for quite some time now. But with the advent of vaccines and boosters, therapies and treatments, we can begin to move cautiously and feel comfortable resuming some of the normal festive activities we were so used to enjoying. Disrupting the norm that enables us to feel comfortable throws us off kilter. It causes us to feel as though we are walking on uneven ground and must watch each step to maintain our balance.
So, here is a question I would like you to consider in terms of balance: “How can I spend my time so that I actually enjoy all the roles I play?” In other words, how can I find a sense of balance in my life whereby I am fulfilled, and not overwhelmed as so many of us are much of the time. It seems to me that there is some Jewish wisdom to be gained from the Shabbat experience. Before you get nervous, I am not going to suggest that you celebrate Shabbat each week in a traditional manner. But in the celebration of Shabbat, there is wisdom that sets a framework to address the questions of balance.
Shabbat recognizes and even blesses distinctions. Shabbat is an ordered day, but I would especially like you to consider
the concluding ceremony on Shabbat. This is called Havdalah, which means separation. Havdalah is abundantly clear about distinctions. Using a cup of wine, sweet spices and a braided candle we say, “Thank you God for making distinctions, between the holy and the ordinary, light and darkness, Shabbat and the days of the work week.” In other words, we should make clear distinctions where we have allowed things to overlap: where we bleed work into play, romance into the mundane, date night into an extension of social time, family time into couple time. We need to be cautious that we are not ignoring the distinctions.
Abraham Joshua Heschel writes, “Judaism is a religion of time, aiming at the sanctification of time…Every hour is unique and the only one given at the moment, exclusively and endlessly precious.” What he is attempting to say is make each hour count, wherever you are and in whatever role you play. Shabbat gives us very distinct positive things to do and negative things to refrain from. We mut draw up our own boundary lists so that we separate different aspects of our lives, allowing each to maintain its integrity. If you are working from home, then work. If you are having date night with your husband and watching a movie, don’t answer your a work call on your cell phone. If you are at a conference, be at the conference. Don’t bring your spouse along and call it a vacation. Drawing boundaries is valuable in maintaining the integrity of a relationship. It also makes the relationship richer, more rewarding and more joyously fulfilling.
Achieving a proper balance of work and family, social life and intimacy, is not easy in real time. Years later though, when we look back on our lives, most of us will not regret spending more time working. Instead, we will regret the time we did not spend with our spouse and children, particularly when they were young and ripe for interaction.
Balance is the key to everything. Perhaps one key to attaining balance is to stop looking at work as something that needs to be balanced out by everything else, but rather to think of work as one of the many holy things we do that can add a sense of fulfillment to our lives. In Leviticus 23, the Torah says, “These are the set times of God, the sacred occasions that you shall designate at their set times.” The wording of this verse underscores the importance of having set times that are dedicated to specific activities. Designated intervals can enable us to be more intentional with our time and encourage living in the moment, rather than always thinking about what should be done next.
Ponder some of these ideas in terms of balancing your own life. Perhaps these thoughts will begin to provide insight into some of the ways that you can lead a more fulfilling and productive life.
Rabbi Howard S. Herman DD
Rabbi Howard S. Herman DD
Naples Jewish Congregation