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Put Away Your To-Do List

05/16/2024 11:41:16 AM


Rabbi Bryan Wexler

How do you organize your day? Personally, I try to make a list every morning of all the people I must reach, all the projects that need my attention, and all of the daily tasks that I need to do. I often feel it’s “been a good day” when I can check off most of the tasks I put down. I know it’s been an “awesome day” on the RARE occasion when I can check off everything. On the flip side, I feel disappointed and stressed when things do not get done, or when the list is longer at the end of the day than it was at the beginning.

It’s no wonder that I or anyone else judges the quality of our days by what gets done. That’s because there are only so many seconds in a minute and only so many hours in a day. As time flies, and we seem to get busier and busier, the pressure to get things done feels very real. And hence we can obsess over how to organize our time so that we can check off as many boxes as possible.

Sometimes, Jewish life and practice can feel like an unending to-do list. The performance of mitzvot can be long and time consuming. The Talmud often refers to one who has performed a religious act as being yotze, or “freeing” themselves from the daily requirements of life in the covenant. Instead of focusing on how a mitzvah brings meaning and vitality to my life, I can become obsessed with doing it at the right time and precisely the right way. In other words, Judaism can focus too much on time management instead of soul management, and it is precisely this idea of soul management that I think we need to focus on more.

While Leviticus cares deeply about times and procedures, no book of the Torah is more focused on soul management. The sacrificial rites found in the first few chapters are prescriptions to heal our inner lives. Further in the book, the messiness of sickness and death are not shied away from, rather they are embraced by making what could be shameful very public. The need for self-mastery through the encouragement to become holy like God and to act godly have as much to do with our inner selves as they have to do with the outcomes of our choices. And in this week’s Torah portion, Emor, Leviticus takes on the failed notion that time management is enough to create meaning.

In Leviticus 23 we find our sacred calendar. “These are occasions of God that you shall ordain as sacred and call them holy…” (Leviticus 23:2) God lays out a calendar of the year but puts the responsibility of making the days sacred upon us. Judaism gives us a map for holy moments – opportunities to bring to the surface the soul-work that is needed to make life more meaningful. 

The Torah is a blueprint for management. Judaism, and especially Leviticus, wants us to build a civilization that prioritizes the parts of us that make us most human – our fragility, our emotions, our spirit, our pursuit of justice and holiness. That’s what makes Judaism an extraordinary way of living life.

This week, as we enter into Shabbat, I invite you to put your to-do lists away and to take some time caring for your soul though reflection, community, and that which brings you fulfillment and joy.

Shabbat Shalom. 

Sun, July 14 2024 8 Tammuz 5784