The Endless Pursuit

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I am blessed beyond words, because for my job as a rabbi, I get to spend my days engrossed in timeless, life changing texts— whether the G-d given texts of the Torah, or the brilliant wisdom of our sages, rabbis and philosophers , I leave work each day more pumped up than a helium balloon.

I realized today, that every day is filled with learning so much wisdom, some of it gets lost since I do not always have a chance to properly process it, and review it. Then I realized, “you know Dan-o, your hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of blog readers from Vietnam to China are just clamoring for your next post. It’s likely they press the refresh button just waiting to see when you published something new. Why don’t you share some of the Eternal wisdom you blessedly learn every day with them through your blogg?”

Yesterday, with a young man in his twenties with whom I learn every Wednesday, who for anonymity sake we will refer to as Morris, we continued learning the classic Mussar text by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato called Mesilas Yesharim. In the second chapter he discusses the trap that too many of us fall into, of being overly busy. We are simply too overworked and busy to realize that we are living lives that are void of meaning. In theory we would like to change, but there’s simply no time in the day— we are constantly on the go. In the Ramchal’s holy words:

(Jeremiah described his generation) ‘as one person they rush to stay the course, like a horse charging headlong into battle.’ In other words, they were constantly propelled forward by the impulsiveness of their habits and ways, without having themselves time to critically examine their conduct. As a result, they fell into wrongdoing without being aware of it. This is surely one of the shrewd ploys of the evil inclination, which relentlessly labors to burden the hearts of people until they are left with no spare moment, either to contemplate or to observe the path they are taking. For it knows, that if they would only minimally devote their attention to their ways, they would, no doubt, immediately regret their deeds, and this regret would intensify until they would abandon sin altogether.

He goes on to explain that Pharaoh’s strategy in enslaving the Jews was to simply work them hard enough to “prevent them from any reflection, by means of ceaseless toil.”

The Ramchal penned these timeless words in the first part of the 18th Century; but how true they ring today, in 2020. From the time that we are 5 years old, whether we like it, or not, many of us are put on a fast track for our professional careers. We go to school for 12 years, with the idea that we must instantly switch gears to college. We spend 4 years in college, many times, with the idea that we need to immediately jump into a specialized graduate program. We then begin our careers, wake up every morning, go to work, come home at night, exhausted, and then we go to sleep. And then we start over again the next day. And this goes on for the next 50 years. We wake up one day in our mid 70s, wondering where our lives have gone.

I recall when we lived in Stamford Connecticut, and I was in Rabbinical School in Manhattan. I would catch the 6:20 express train to Manhattan, and commute for an hour and 40 minutes from Stamford, to Midtown, then to Uptown. I would attend my rabbinical studies in the morning, and then work until the late afternoon at a rabbinic internship in Times Square. I would get home every evening around 7:00 PM. At 9:00 PM, when I would collapse in bed from sheer exhaustion I vividly remember telling my wife, “Thank G-d I love what I do, and I can’t wait to get back at it tomorrow. Because if not, this is no way to live.”

And this was before the proliferation of smartphones. Now, imagine the day I described above. But now, in a quiet moment, instead of people having an opportunity to think, reflect, or just breathe, their iPhone beckons. Yours truly, a person with a strong sensitivity towards excessive screen time, has logged an average of 4 hours and 49 minutes of my waking hours this week on the phone.

I thank G-d with all of my heart and soul that as a Jew, I have been given the gift of the Sabbath. A 25 hour refuge in time, that blessedly comes every single week. No work, no smart phone, and no distractions. Just myself, my wife, my precious children, and my community. A time to look inwardly and reflect, to see if I’m on the proper path.

Life is passing us by, and we are simply missing it all. But we don’t need to. We can all take one day of the week such as Shabbos to reflect on our path. We can dedicate three minutes every evening before bed to assess how our day went, if we felt pride in our accomplishments, or if we came up short of our potential.

And G-d willing, after 120 years we can look back with tremendous pride and accomplishment at how we sanctified our limited precious time on this earth.


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