A close relative of mine has long passed retirement age. He should have retired from surgery about 15 years ago, but still practices to this day.
Thanks to me.
I thought it quite strange when he asked my advice about whether or not to retire, because I suspect he always regarded me as somewhat of a young up-start. Possibly, because we are both a little older now, he may have felt more comfortable confiding in me.
I told him to never ever entertain the notion of retirement even for an instant. As long as he has something to give he must keep at it. I told him that he would loose his prestige and dignity if he stops working.
He asked me how long it would take for his dignity to dissipate.
I told him, ‘less than one afternoon.’
We know that older people spiral very quickly into a state of feeling worthless, which rapidly deteriorates into actual worthlessness, as long as they feel they have nothing left to contribute.
Even past presidents look different on TV the day after they were actual presidents.
It really does not take long for the fire to subside when it is no longer being stoked.
When you can’t wait to wake up in the morning and start living your dream…when you feel sad at the end of the day that the day is over…when time seems to pass by so quickly – you probably have passion for what it is you do.
On the other hand, when you have to ‘kill time’ and can’t wait for the long day to end and wish tomorrow wasn’t going to happen – you probably don’t have the passion we are talking about.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov explains that sometimes even a neutral type of activity performed with a degree of passion, has a similar effect on the soul as Torah Study.
As long as the activity is not prohibited, even a non-Torah activity, can be considered like Torah itself, provided it is done with passion and joy.
By making positive use of time, one does not succumb to the evils of sin, hence he naturally and automatically achieves what Torah achieves, without even realizing it.
In a similar vein, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk writes; “I want you not to sin.
Not because it is forbidden, but rather because you simply to not have the time to do so.”
(Emet ve Emunah p 53. par 3)
Imagine that. The Kotzker turns our entire perception of sin on its head. We think we don’t sin because it is forbidden and wrong (which of course it is). But that’s a lesser level of understanding the theology of sin. The deeper reason we don’t sin is because we have so filled all our physical and emotional voids and vacuums that there is no longer any room for anything else. Sin therefore can take no hold.
Psychologists tell us that for a human being to live a healthy emotional life, he needs three things;
- Something to do.
- Someone to love, and
- Something to look forward to.
I have always liked this deceptively simple three-part philosophy.
The first and most important thing in life, no matter who you are is to have something (hopefully meaningful and worthwhile) to do. If you are in the zone and on a mission of sorts, there is not much that can get to you. If you are so fired up that you don’t even want to talk on the phone, there is little chance of the Yetzer (evil inclination) getting through either.
And then you need to be able to share your love with others. Meaning becomes enhanced when shared with someone you love.
Finally, you also need to project towards the future. Being too locked into the here-and-now can give you emotional cabin-fever. Looking forward to tomorrow with a plan lends both previous points a little more buoyancy as well.
It’s interesting, though that the first point is still the first point. The preliminary focus must always be on having something meaningful to do now. This usually acts as a conduit for the next two points anyway, and (at least according to Rebbe Nachman) is Torah-like in and of itself.