Stressed Out

Right now (although by the time you read this it would have been Sunday afternoon), I should be mired in preparation for a multi- defendant enterprise corruption trial which is scheduled to begin tomorrow morning. Yet the more I try to delve into transcripts of the hundreds of recorded telephone conversations and thousand of documents, the more I am distracted over some perplexing phenomena. Perhaps I am just procrastinating or maybe I’m in denial that the trial will actually start, but it troubles me that the more stressed out I become while attending to my daily mundane pursuits, the more spiritually disconnected I become.

Isn’t this counterintuitive? Shouldn’t it be the exact opposite? Aren’t we at our spiritual zenith during challenging or difficult periods in life? Isn’t that when, more than any other time, we achieve focus and clarity by crying out with fervor and sincerity to connect with Hashem? Why then, when it comes to the daily hustle and bustle, it seems that we’re just “too busy” to daven or learn
? Funny, but we don’t seem to have that problem with kashrus. When was the last time you said to yourself, “Gee, I’m too swamped to eat kosher. I better eat some treif.” I know what you’re thinking. Hey Kirschner, that’s not the same thing. Eating treif would require you to do something when you’re already too busy doing something else. It’s an entirely different matter to omit davening or learning because you’re too busy to stop doing what you’re doing. Somehow though, being armed with this knowledge doesn’t seem to prevent us from repeatedly falling into this abyss. At first glance, the obvious answer is that such is the very cunning work of the yeitzer hora. Fair enough, but simply recognizing that, by itself, doesn’t necessarily mean we will escape its grip. Frankly, if it were that easy, we would have little difficulty overcoming many of our challenges just by understanding that it is the work of the yeitzer hora.

Unlike many things in life, where a lack of clarity precludes us from sifting through the fog of the yeitzer hora, it really shouldn’t be that tough here. If anything, the busier and heavier our daily secular pursuits become, the need to spiritually connect with the Borei Olam becomes clearer. This is true if for no other reason than from a selfish desire to throw up our hands and beg Him to relieve us from our burdens. We seem to have little, if any, difficulty doing it for Shabbos. Why then is it so difficult to take the time out to daven, find a minyan or learn even for a few minutes each day to fulfill the mitzvah of kvias itim – setting aside a fixed time for daily Torah study?

Sure, the yeitzer hora relentlessly attempts to convince us that it is a mitzvah to miss a mincha or a maariv because we need the parnussa to pay yeshiva tuition. He tells us, “Don’t worry, while performing one mitzvah, you’re exempt from performing another mitzvah. It’s okay if you miss your shiur or cancel your chavrusa (learning partner) because you’re very tired, you worked very hard and you need your rest to be fresh for work tomorrow. You have to pay the bills, don’t you? You have to work hard for that promotion which will bring your more money with which to perform more mitzvos.”

It’s all quite perplexing. We can actually feel ourselves becoming disconnected the more we buy into that gibberish. Even if we overcome it and go to minyan or daf yomi, we do so by ruminating over that which still needs to be accomplished. And that’s if we’re awake!

Some years ago, I observed a well-respected rabbi in shul take out his pocket date book and make a few notes (that was before the PDA) after completing his shemonah esrei. After davening, I commented to him that it surprised me to see even rabbis have things pop into their head during davening. He responded, “Of course, that’s the best time for the yeitzer hora to disrupt us.” Then he shared with me a very effective tactic. Speak to Hashem and tell Him your thoughts during the day when you’re in the middle of your mundane pursuits. It doesn’t take much time, you can connect with Hashem in mere moments and best of all, by the time the yeitzer hora figures it out, you’ll be done. That, in turn, will provide the impetus to make minyan, attend shuir and learn with your chavrusa.

Now, if only I can figure out a way to “connect” with the judge tomorrow and beg him to adjourn that trial.

Originally Published on Dec 6, 2006

4 comments on “Stressed Out

  1. Great post!

    I once heard a rebbitzen say “When you are so busy that you don’t have time for a Shemona Esrei is when you really NEED to do a Shemona Esrei!”

    But it still doesn’t help me overcome the Y’H!

  2. Stressed Out Spiritual Disconnection (SOSD) can be tackled in two respects:

    1. Doing the spiritual thing
    2. Feeling the spiritual thing.

    Regarding #1, Sarah hit the nail on the head when she said “It’s the times where we view things as ‘optional’ I think that it’s hard to prioritize or have our priorities in order.” To rephrase, we define oursleves by what we consider (non-)optional. For the Halachically observant, Shabbos is non-optional. But,

    Is davening optional?
    Is davening with a minyan?
    Is keeping your chavrusa commitment?

    If we have made the decision that these are no more optional than Shabbos, and such decisons are part of the individual’s growth process, then they become no-brainers like David’s kashrus example and we maintain spiritual connection even when stressed out.

    #2, feeling spiritual when stressed out, is a totally different challenge. Sure I’m keeping Shabbos/davening/learning, but am I focused on what I am doing or am I thinking about work? That, of course, is the far greater challenge, one that lasts a lifetime.

    We start by tackling #1, our actions, which are more under our direct control, and to some extent it will carry over to #2, our feelings as well.

  3. Hey, Rabbi. Chill out. ;)

    In all seriousness, focusing on the little things throughout the day are what makes the big things much easier. My Rebbe in HS used to always tell us when we were having a rough time to try and do just a few minutes of this or that throughout the day. Those few minutes made a huge difference in the day overall, and had a much greater short- and long-term effect than a few hours a day that often end up short-lived would have.

  4. Just this morning my mother and I were trying to plan a birthday get-together. She told me she gets stressed out by my having to take real estate phone calls all the time and could I guarantee her an uninterrupted block of quality time.

    I’m still thinking about it, because as was written above, it’s so hard to stop what we’re involved in, it’s consuming. Sometimes I even think about these matters in the middle of the night. Though women don’t have to attend minyan and even learning may be of a less formal or structured nature, there is spiritual growth and other important things like family time, spouse time, children time, self time, maybe even exercise, etc…

    The designated times like Shabbos, Yom Tov, are the ultimate “rest” from the outside world but we have to be forced into it thankfully. It’s the times where we view things as “optional” I think that it’s hard to prioritize or have our priorities in order.

    I know a VERY successful and famous Realtor/owner in Bayside who is not frum and has managed to organize herself and her schedule so that she has daily slots of time where she spends uninterrupted blocks of time with her daughter in the middle of the work day, does not work Sundays and evenings after a reasonable time find her unavailable as well. That just amazes me. I will be thinking more about how to achieve this balancing act by prioritizing, especially in light of the request made by my mother this morning.

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