By Rabbi Yisroel Shusterman
This week’s Parsha Perspective is dedicated in memory of
Mrs Feige Klein OBM
by her son Dr Yehuda Klein and family, Monsey NY.
Abraham was the ultimate workaholic. In his youth, he organized and gave mass lectures on monotheism all across Mesopotamia. He wrote 400 books on the subject. At the age of 75, he moved to the Promised Land and continued his life’s mission apace. He set up and managed hospitality inns all over the country, launched a war to free his nephew, fathered a son when he was 86, and circumcised himself at 99. Not one to shirk hard work, he defended the people of Sodom before G‑d at 99, and fathered another son at the age of 100. When he was 137, he undertook an arduous three-day journey through the mountains to bind his son Isaac, and when he returned, he found that his wife Sarah had passed away. He immediately purchased a plot for her burial and organized her funeral, as detailed in this week's Parshah Chaye Sarah (Bereishis 23:1-25:18).
When this was all said and done, you might imagine that Abraham would have opted to rest, but that was not to be. Shortly after the mourning period for Sarah, he launched an involved campaign to find a bride for Isaac. And here is the most amazing part: after arranging for his son to be married, Abraham remarried and had more children. Abraham was not ready to give up and retire. He had lots of hard work left in him, and rest would need to wait.
I doubt that we can match Abraham’s pace, but we can learn a lesson from it.
Do you work all year so you can take a vacation in the summer, or do you vacation in the summer to rejuvenate and go back to work? Do you work all day so you can rest in bed at night, or do you rest in bed at night so you can wake up and work in the morning?
Because we sink into bed at night with a true sigh of relief and wake up in the morning with a long groan of unhappiness, we erroneously think that we are happier at rest than at work. But that isn’t true. When we are fully engaged, overcoming challenges, dealing with crises and making progress, we are vibrant, alive and abuzz. When we are relaxed and at rest, we grow indolent and sluggish.
We enjoy the moment of transition from frenetic pace to rest, which is why we sigh with relief when we crawl into bed, settle into a vacation, or light Shabbat candles on Friday night. But overall, we are happiest when we are at work.
This is because G‑d didn’t create man to relax, but to be purposeful. When we are pursuing a goal and accomplishing a purpose, we feel in sync with our essence. Being at rest is not natural to us. While we enjoy the break for a little while, we soon yearn for a return to work. Because at work, we are in “giving mode”: we contribute to the universe, to society and to life. When we are at rest, we are in “receiving mode”: we receive from the universe and from life. We feel more fulfilled when we’re contributing than when we’re receiving because we are, at heart, purpose-driven. It is how G‑d made us.
Abraham surely rested from time to time, but he clearly required less rest than most. What we can learn from Abraham is that rest is overrated. The best condition in life is the exuberance of hard work. That is when we come alive. That is when we are most fully human. That is when we most reflect our Creator.
He made us for a purpose. Our task is to find that purpose and pursue it. If at times we must rest, it is to gather strength for more work. Our rest invigorates us for the challenges that lie ahead.
May we find the strength to complete our tasks, the creativity to overcome our challenges, and the wisdom to appreciate the vibrancy that such trials bring.
May you have a meaningful and uplifting Shabbos!