Busy with Torah? How much is too much?

By Debbi K. Levy

The Talmud strongly asserts, “Remember that the day of death approaches.” Don’t waste even one day.

The well-known and often quoted words of Rabbi Tarfon from Pirkei Avot state, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”

We recite in community worship, “Praised are you, God, who commands us to busy ourselves with words of Torah.”

Each of these opportunities for mitzvot and doing good swim in my head. Am I fulfilling the obligations utilizing my Divine-given capacity? Is it enough? What sacred tool can I employ for measuring enoughness? And, lastly, “Am I enough?”

I list my inventory as is my habit: I am teaching many weekly practices through a Jewish lens, assembling a team for the Anti-Defamation League’s Walk Against Hate, co-chairing the Community Mission to Israel in November, participating in campaigns for equality of all people with my voice and my checkbook and preparing myself spiritually for ordination in August as I become a Kohenet.

Absent from my inventory are unanswered pleas from a myriad of Jewish organizations, membership in an important congregational committee I decided to step away from, missed opportunities for worship and deepening my Hebrew language skill set with more dedicated practice time.

I am all at once awash in both guilt and pride in my contributions. Where is that measuring stick? “Is it enough?” I rebuke myself once more.

Friday morning, I awaken feeling remnants of a sweet dream, with fragments of my mother and scenes from my childhood. I linger in bed a bit, as Barry tells me about the headlines and content of the daily newspaper just retrieved from our sidewalk. I review my emails and dress and prepare for another day full of opportunity to do some good and be busy with Torah. But Friday comes with relief, even on the most tightly scheduled days. Reflecting as I’m prone to do, the measuring stick I have been seeking becomes apparent. The measuring stick is Shabbat.

Can my obligations and promises be fulfilled enough to let it all go at sunset? I don’t feel like Shabbat is optional — I understand the practice of Shabbat is a commandment, and a joyous one at that — but can I stop my ticking the boxes of my tasks in a peaceful way as our weekly holiday is ushered in? Am I too inundated to make my way into a restful mindset?

A welcome “Aha!” moment surfaces. Modeled by the Creator, I am beginning to comprehend that not only the cessation of the physical work of the week, but also the mental work of the week, is that measuring stick I have been searching for.

As the glow of the Shabbat twin candle flames warms us, the separation of the week and all its duties (even holy duties) fall away for rest, contentment, joy and worship to come into purposeful focus. Because this is so, I have my answer. I am doing enough. I am enough. And Shabbat is here to refresh my soul.


Debbi K. Levy is writing this story on a Sunday, refreshed by the Divine reset of Shabbat.

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