Truths You Can Use

Truths You Can Use

Is Work-Life Balance Really Possible?

Even though I’m only 33, I know that people today work harder than ever. During my childhood, my dad had a highly-professional job and still made it home by 5:00 pm. Today my own life and those of my friends and congregants suggest that this is a rare occurrence.

Has technology simply meant that we work more? Has globalization meant we are competing with the world? Yes and yes. Does that mean that finding a true balance between working and living is impossible? No.

Looking at the life of one of history’s busiest and most successful figures, we can find a framework and tips for doing so. That figure is Moses. Consider his successes and his failures.

Successes:

1. Led Israelites out of Egypt

2. Received 10 Commandments

3. Taught the Torah to the entire people

Failures:

1. Paid little attention to his wife and kids

2. Got impatient when people did not to live up to his standards

3. Lost his temper with his boss (God)

As is often the case, we can learn more from his failures. What can we learn?

1. Integrate Life and Work More Closely: Aside from his siblings, the only family member Moses let into his work life was his father-in-law Jethro. Rather than send his wife and children off to live in Midian while he led the Israelites across the wilderness, Moses could have made them part of the journey. We can let our kids know about our work and feel part of what we are doing.

2. Respect Other People’s Priorities: Moses responded to the death of his brother Aaron’s sons by stating simply that God has His reasons for what happened. Rather than dwell on this loss, he needs to focus now on achieving the mission God had assigned them. Aaron responds to Moses with silence. The implication was that Moses’ words did not bring comfort. While Moses could focus solely on continuing their mission of reaching the Promised Land, Aaron needed to mourn for his children. Moses did not grasp Aaron’s concerns.

3. Keep Perspective: Our work can feel all-consuming. We can begin to think the our whole lives rest on the next decision we make or meeting we attend. 99% of the time, it does not.

Rabbi Larry Kushner writes of his friend, an Episcopal Minister, who threw away every piece of paper on his desk at the end of every month. “What about the important ones?” Kushner asked him. “Not to worry,” he explained. “If it’s important, it’ll come back.” We need not adopt this exact practice to recognize that every single piece of paper does not require urgent attention.

Work and life can never be completely in balance. As we grow and change, our priorities and needs shift. What does not change is our need for meaning. We seek meaning in our work and our families. To be in balance is to express our best selves and find deep satisfaction in them both.

Have You Declared Your Interdependence?

Which is the more American holiday–Thanksgiving or July 4th? I used to say July 4th. America is about independence. It is about the free spirit of adventure and progress that built our country.
interdependence dayMy view hasn’t changed. Yet, my understanding of July 4th has. Today we do not only celebrate independence. We need also, if we are to be true to history and to the way life works, recognize our interdependence.

No matter how successful, how intelligent, or how powerful we are–we depend on others. Albert Einstein put it well when he said, “A hundred times a day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labors of others, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have been received and am receiving.”

We Depend on Others Every Day

Think of when we turn on the water faucet. To get that glass of water, we depend on plumbers, chemists, engineers, upon the manufacturers of pipes and spigots, and also on the people who build the reservoirs, water meters and generators.

One of the great achievements of the environmental movement is that it has helped make us more aware of the ethical and global implication of the work that goes into producing the food we eat, the coffee we drink and clothes we buy. We depend on others, and with that dependence comes a sense of responsibility.

Every Room Needs a Window

An obscure Jewish law teaches this truth. Any room in which people gather for prayer must have a window. We are not permitted to isolate ourselves from the world around us.

Technology today makes us ever more interconnected. Yet, it also gives us ways to escape into our own worlds. Perhaps it’s time to declare our spiritual independence. We do not need devices and distractions to entertain us all the time. We need hope. We need dignity. We need one another.

Are There Atheists in Foxholes?

A young disciple once asked his rabbi: “Do you believe God created everything for a purpose?” “Of course,” the rabbi answered.

“Then why,” the student asked, “did God create atheists?”

The rabbi paused and stroked his beard. He then spoke softly and intensely. “Sometimes we who believe, believe too much. We see the cruelty, the suffering, the injustice in the world and we say: ‘This is the will of God.’ We accept what we should not accept.”

“That is when God sends us atheists to remind us that what passes for religion is not always religion. Sometimes what we accept in the name of God is what we should be fighting against in the name of God.” (This teaching is attributed to a variety of sages, including Jonathan Sacks and Rav Kook)

Avoiding Self-Righteousness

What a powerful answer. Atheists challenge what the faithful often take for granted. They prevent us from giving easy answers to important challenges.

In an age of soundbites and talking points, we need such serious and courageous conversations. Doubt, as Paul Tillich pointed out, is not the opposite of faith. It is an element of faith. Doubt makes faith meaningful. If we welcome it with open hearts and open minds, we help stop righteousness from becoming self-righteousness.

 

How To Forgive Even When It Hurts

When his mother died, Mark began to go through her belonging. Knowing she was meticulously organized, he was not surprised to find a stack of daily planners. They covered the years 1948-1997.

He began to look through them and saw a clear pattern. Every day had a list. Most items on the list had lines through them, indicating they had been completed. Incomplete ones had a circle around them.


Beginning in 1955, every October 22nd the entry “Call Sylvia” was etched at the top of the page. October 22nd was Sylvia’s birthday, and Mark’s mom intended to call her. But every year it remained circled in red, incomplete.

His mother, and her sister-in-law Sylvia, had had some sort of falling out. No one remembered when or why.

In 1987 the item finally had a line running through it. Underneath the entry read, “Visited the cemetery. Told Sylvia I was sorry.”

How Did It Get This Way?

For 32 years two relatives could not speak to one another, even though at least one of them wanted to. It was too hard, too painful. Just imagine what life would been had they made amends. One less hole in heart at the time of death. One less piece of unfinished business. (I first heard this story from Rabbi David Whiman)

How many of us walk around with a hole in our hearts? How many of us want to forgive but can’t or won’t? For some even the thought of forgiveness can generate enormous pain and resistance.

There is no three- or ten-step process for forgiving. If there was, we would all know it. There are only questions we can ask ourselves. Here are a few to consider:

Questions To Ask Ourselves

1. What did I do? There is a difference between being right and being effective. We may (rightly) believe we did nothing wrong in creating the rift in a relationship. We may think our brother or our sister has rewritten history, imagining we said things we never said.

But something happened. Understanding that, and trying to appreciate the situation from the other’s point of view, will help immensely in giving us strength and perspective to forgive.

2. Am I hurting myself? We tend to magnify the way others see us. We assume that what consumes our attention also consumes theirs. This truth often creates misunderstanding in a marriage. It can also impede healing and reconciliation. We think we are “teaching him a lesson” when we withhold forgiveness. We think we are achieving some kind of vengeance. We think that to forgive is to condone.

Forgiving is not condoning. It is moving on. It is removing a roadblock on our path. Forgiveness is a  gift we give ourselves.

3. Am I asking too much of someone else? We often wait for the other person to make a move. Perhaps they are not capable of doing so. Perhaps they hurt as we do.

In the classic work of Jewish wisdom, Ethics of the Fathers, the sages taught, “In a place where there are on human beings, be a human being.” In other words, do the right thing regardless of what another person does.

4. How would I feel if the relationship was repaired? We may have learned to live with the broken relationship. Life demands it.

Yet, just as a scab conceals a hidden wound, silence can hide a hurting heart. Envisioning a healing, a reconciliation, can strengthen our motivation. Imagine the way forgiveness would feel.

5. If not now, when? 

 

By Evan Moffic, Rabbi of Congregation Solel in Highland Park.

To Inspire Yourself and Discover More, check out Rabbi Moffic’s free weekly digest of spiritual wisdom

 

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