We all know about shimita for farmers. What about a sabbatical for our family life?
What happens to our family life when we are “on” and competing for so much of our lives? Writing in The Atlantic, Ed Zitron describes how his successful work-from-home business almost became his ruin:
I didn’t realize how the accumulation of mental stress could affect me, because I didn’t perceive my stress as real. I refused to see that I’d taken on way too much. I told myself I was lucky to work from home… and I thus did everything I could to fill every minute of my working day. I eventually hit a wall… when I found myself apologizing to random Twitter users for not publishing a free newsletter, and forgetting to do things that were otherwise elementary to me. I was burned-out emotionally and mentally…
The non-stop work culture, the feeling that you are “on-call” all the time, doesn’t spare even the most observant Jewish communities. I had a chance to chat with Eydl Reznik, the director of Torah Parent Coach/B’Derech Hamelch, about the challenges facing families today, and how parents can respond.
A race for mitzvos and for the most successful children is still a race
We live in a race. It’s a race against time, against outside influences, against the proverbial “Joneses”. When we have a few moments rest, we run to weddings and bar-mitzvahs, to volunteer for a chesed project, or shopping at some sale. Corona slowed us down for a bit but also ratcheted up our internal pressure and angst.
Part of the insight that the parenting courses at Torah Parent Coach/B’Derech Hamelch seek to import is that the race for mitzvos, for parnasa, and for the most successful children is still a race.
Is there something wrong?
There is much discussion about lifestyle changes in the Western media, in order to improve one’s quality of life. Diets abound, trans-fat is the enemy, so go for relaxation techniques, work out at the gym, and keep your body going with energy drinks. Just make sure that you race around while you are doing these things in order to be the most successful lifestyle-changer on the block.
How is a Jew supposed to respond to this? Are we supposed to be “with the times” and follow the pace and level of competition that modernity has imposed on us? Just because we can travel faster, make arrangements and business deals faster, cook faster and build our homes faster than in the past, does that mean that we also need to daven faster, raise kids faster, learn Torah faster and race in and out of our relationships faster?
Jewish time and our children’s needs
Time, as a Jewish commodity, is already a part of our awareness. Avoiding bitul zman powers our yeshivas and other endeavors, making us a highly industrious community. Perhaps we also believe that we can make our family dynamics and spiritual productivity increase by moving faster. But, in some cases, we cannot. Going for that type of speed can get in the way of living a meaningful life. Western culture has its perks but it is not always aligned with Jewish culture, and perhaps never the twain shall truly meet.
Our children need us, and in the long run, we need them just as much. Many children are waiting for their parents to notice them. Notice that they are waiting for a loving look. Notice that they are bored and need creative challenges to stimulate their intelligence. Notice that they are not doing so well and someone needs to discover why. Notice that it’s becoming late and the window of opportunity to develop the child’s trust and inner resilience is getting smaller and further away.
Creating safe havens for our children
Jewish homes engaging in the timeless, uniquely Jewish quality-time where each day is immersed in a Torah-true atmosphere of creating loving borders, generates a protected zone. In our intense world, children need their homes more than ever to be a safe haven of kind words and loving touch, of calming, nutritious foods, and peaceful sleep. They need eye contact and emotional closeness to their source of all relationships—their parents.
When we begin being the providers of life skills for our children, competition with the outside world lessens, because true values of kindness, trust, and faith are what a healthy family is imbued with.
We need to stop and think: is speed and success really a means to an end, or is it an end onto itself? Being products of our society’s mentality, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between what our society terms “being useful”, and what the Torah considers a person’s role is on this earth.
How about considering “how to be” rather than about “how much to do”
There are two elements in a person that comprises who he is and affects his productivity level: the body and the soul. Our sages guide us in understanding the body and its needs, and the soul and its needs. Both body and soul are necessary for a person to be able to grow to shleymut, to reach his wholesome and ultimate potential. Since our ultimate goal in life is not about the “how much?” and the “why not?” but rather about the “how to be” and “doing good things”, we are in a very real way at internal odds with much of the world around us.
Denying your physical needs damages your emotional and spiritual states
Fighting sleep with 24/7 stores or working online at all times defies a person’s physical reality. It affects our capacity for greater spiritual productivity. Ingesting any type of food regardless of its nutritional value, just as long as it has a hechsher, ignores one of our basic rights—to protect ourselves against disease. The drinks we choose and the rate at which we replenish our daily need for water affects our emotional resilience and physical health: the spikes in sugar levels in our bloodstream make us more susceptible to emotional outbursts and immune-system weakness.
How active we are physically on a daily basis will be instrumental when we experience emotional difficulties, or need an effective immune response. When traumatic experiences or crisis occurs, the need to self-regulate becomes critical. There is a symbiotic relationship between the sleep-food-water-activity that we get each day. Using these elements properly makes for calmer, smarter, safer families.
Judaism does not condone disconnecting the physical body from this world for the sake of success, but rather integrating our physical being in the spiritual pursuit of mitzvah observance as a part of a Jew’s avoda. This means retaining a healthy physical state within which the soul can pursue its profession—that of being an uplifted Jew, raising oneself along with our children and students, and enlightening the world around us through the calm, enthusiastic aura and boundless energy that surround a Torah observant person who protects their body in order to protect their soul.
These lofty goals are actually a part of our daily routine as Jews. Whether you are a simple Jew, or a famous Rebbitzin, all Jews are bound by the same laws that guide our neshomos and our bodies to reaching that higher potential. For ultimately, the longer your body holds on to life and health on this earth, the more wonderful things you can do to affect yourself, your children, your community, and the greater world community in order to be a light unto the nations.
These ancient guidelines of the mind-body connection reflect the holistic view of the Torah itself and the conclusions that Chazal, in their great wisdom, have given us. Following their guidelines will protect us physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
Self-care is needed so that you can meet your meaningful goals
The pursuit of physical perfection in Western society has for millennia, been an end-all in and of itself, not for the sake of furthering one’s emotional/spiritual self. However, as we hear reports of the mind-body connection researched and proven in medical literature over the past 35 years, the words of Chazal ring true in our ears: our souls and bodies must be cared for in tandem in order to function at maximum capacity. These studies being conducted around the globe have been proving that the mind-body connection and disease onset are strongly interrelated and implicated in an array of medical issues— abnormal healing responses, cancer survival rate, relieving hypertension, trauma response, addiction-onset, immune-system weakness, chronic pain, depression, digestive disorders, anxiety, diabetes, geriatric frailty, and so on.
The Rambam, the Ramchal, and the Chofetz Chaim, as well as many other Rabbinic authorities, in their extensive works on halacha and hashkafa cover the mind-body connection. If we are truly concerned about being productive parents, where the product of our homes—our children—reflect the holiness and the wholesomeness of our Jewish lives, then perhaps it is time to delve deeper into our priorities, learn new techniques and take a better look at the issue of “venishmartem me’od l’nafshoseichem” (Devarim 4:15)
Try it this week
- Get a full night’s sleep, by going to sleep an hour earlier in the evening (yes, the computer can wait).
- Eat more nutritious foods to support your nervous system and lower blood sugar (yes, the cookies can wait).
- Drink plenty of unsweetened fluids (your body is 60-70% saltwater).
- Take a brisk walk with some of your kids (better than the weddings, for your family relationships)
A healthy, rested, cared-for parent helps children live in a brighter, more patient, and understanding household. Do it for yourself, do it for your kids.