Time Off For Good Behavior: Parshah Behar

Behar 2014Admit it, part of fantasizing a beach vacation is the vision of kicking back to do absolutely nothing without a shred of guilt. You’ve earned it. Sit. Stare. Dream. Drink. Nap. No obligations to do or be anything but be limp and relaxed.

The sad irony is how hard it is to gift ourselves that luxury.

Academics have a great job perk called a sabbatical. Teach six years, then get one off (though research and writing are implied). Farmers do something similar: letting fields lie fallow so the soil can replenish. What comes after is supposed to be richer and more nourishing than what came before.

It requires prep and planning. But if you do it right, life is easier. Time to do…..whatever you want! In ancient Israel, produce was free for all each seventh year. In addition, after seven cycles of seven years, the 50th was called a jubilee year. In a jubilee year, slaves are freed. All of them, freed; poof, chains gone.

When you think about your life, are there times you step back and see the changes? The big cycles and evolutions? Not just in yourself but also in those around you. Seeing young men/women you knew as toddlers or high-schoolers suddenly becoming married and parents?

We get used to life in the day-to-day. There may be changes and bends in the road, but sometimes they’re subtle. Perhaps you’re changing so slowly you don’t notice or create a moment of conscious choice, but when you look back they’re very clear. There’s obvious exceptions like birthdays ending in zero or five, graduations, weddings, and the like. But when do you give yourself a big chunk of time to look around and feel where you are on your path?

The past month I’ve been living in a construction zone. A long, tedious process of deconstruction and site prep, and now the glories of beautification. A change from old to new, with a fallow time in between.

I’ve needed it, and love the bursts of creativity it has engendered. But before that came discomfort. Watching how s.l.o.w.l.y. people work. Surrendering control. Abandoning the known. Forced quietude. Lots more being than doing.

For the record, my meditation practice includes lots of watching quietly. Wood stove in the winter; yard and sky in summer. Each season has a different tune and soundtrack. Different rhythms, but the basic message is the same: Feed your soul.

That’s the core message of this parshah: Take the time to feed your soul.

Maybe you can’t do it for a whole year. But take at least a little time each day to sit and watch. Listen, and give thanks. Work up to doing it one day a week, say, shabbat. Find special times during the year to yourself periods of quietude and perspective. To slow down and be present.

You’ll spend some of your mental energy in the past or future. But there will come a depth of welcome silence that will nourish and replenish you, if you let it.

Summer’s coming. Your jubilee moments may include a hammock, a hummingbird feeder, and or a gin and tonic. Whatever brings you quiet bliss, sit back and drink in the luxurious vibes of your jubilant now.

Give Yourself A Break: TorahCycle Behar-Bechukotai

BeharSomeone once observed that Judaism’s greatest gift to humanity was not monotheism but rather the idea of a Sabbath. A time to hit the pause button, taking the seventh day to be, not do. A time to live off the labors of the previous six and give gratitude for creation. Not just one day a week, but every seventh year. And amazingly, in the fiftieth year, to have what’s called a Jubilee year. In Biblical times Jubilees included freeing the slaves, a bold act of socio-economic re-engineering. There’s lots of planning and trust involved.

There’re suggestions (okay instructions) for how to be and yes also do’s/don’t’s about how to spend your time and energy. But they aren’t organized around running errands, getting your lawn mowed, or cheering for your favorite team. They’re about taking time to rest, to pray, to learn, and to make love. Not a bad day, and one many might yearn for Monday through Friday.

When you think weekend, do you also think to-do lists, even the ones that include fun line items like friends and playtime? What takes priority? Why does scheduling regular down time sound so unrealistically pie-in-the-sky? Why’s it so hard to give yourself a break?

One reason: we’re trained since childhood to value of our lives by what we accomplish, by what we can point to as products of our skills and talents. To be able to say proudly, I made that!, whether that’s a misshapen vase in a pottery class or a knockout PowerPoint presentation.

So what happens if you give yourself a break? If you trust, as we’re told to do, that the work you’ve done in days/years one through six should be enough to provide for you in the seventh? That it’s okay to vision and dream, not labor?

You’ll have to trust that the rest and regeneration you’ll get from not doing, from not being in motion or crossing something off your to-do list, is also a benefit. Ditto not fretting that you’ll be more harassed and stressed just by finding relaxation time, or fearing you’ll pay for it later. That there are benefits to what outsiders might write off as day dreaming.

These benefit are short-run and long-, tangible and immeasurable. Benefits that will pay off in ways your now you doesn’t yet have words or imagery for. But remind her to say thanks later, when she realizes that gifting yourself some chill and mellow has not just slowed you down and softened you, but given you a new sense of possibility.

Exercise: Take some daydreaming time each week. Organize your world to insulate yourself from your regular reality for at least a few hours on a regular basis. Get some colored pens. Write down how you wish your life looked and felt. Repeat every seven days. Write down whatever you’re dreaming of, no matter how ridiculous it sounds. You can make it pretty later, when you have more time and energy. Then we’ll work on making it real.