Confession #1: You might have already realized this but I didn’t write a column last week. Last week was a bit busy for me, not only with work but with Yohanna being out of town attending a conference, I was solo parenting for a few days. Balancing that fact, along with things at work that needed my attention and the regular preparation for Shabbat, I have myself the permission to not write last week. I know that committing to write a weekly column sets up a deadline for me and an expectation for you, but last week something needed to go.
Confession #2: This Tuesday, I took the afternoon off to go to the movies. In the morning I was invited to speak at the “World Religions” class at South Puget Sound Community College, and rather than return to the office for a few hours, I caught a matinee of the new James Bond movie, Spectre. (Little known fact: I am a big James Bond fan). Since no one else in my family was interested in this movie, and since my weekends often make it harder to get to the movies, catching a Tuesday afternoon matinee seemed to be just the thing. Later in the day at home, I was able to attend to some of the more “movable” aspects of my job, and do some writing and email correspondence.
One of the things I like about my work as a rabbi is the schedule. I am present over the weekends of course at Shabbat, Beit Sefer and other activities and events. I am “on call” to respond to illness or death. And at the same time, since I am not 9-5, I can organize my time differently. Even my “day off”—I am, in theory, off on Mondays—is worked into my flexibility. Especially with kids I find it hard to take one full day off a week; I’d rather work some on Monday so I can take off another time during the week to be present at my sons’ schools. Or, if I need a break, I can reorganize my schedule to take a break.
All this falls under the heading of “self care” or “balance,” something that we are told over and over again is so important to our wellbeing. We are told this so much so that ironically it becomes at times another form of anxiety or pressure to be balanced. What I have learned though is that one, this is very important, and two, what this looks like, what constitutes “balance,” looks different for different people.
In this week’s Torah portion, Toldot, we continue the saga of our ancient patriarchs and matriarchs. We read about the death of the first generation—Abraham and Sarah—last week, now the story picks up with Isaac and Rebekah, and their journey to establish themselves and their family. Part of the story we tell this week is Isaac’s desire to dig water wells. His first two attempts to dig wells are met with conflict and contentiousness from his neighbors who also stake claims to the wells. His third attempt is successful and so he names the well Rehovot—“expansiveness”—because, as the text relates Isaac saying, “Now at last God has granted us ample space to increase in the land.” (Genesis 26:22)
In reading this section, I was struck by the name. Names have importance in the Torah, and each name has a meaning. I found the naming of the place Rehovot/Expansiveness to evoke not just a physical description but an emotional one. To name a place based on the feeling evoked by the place feels very powerful. And I saw a parallel in Isaac’s quest to our own. We, like Isaac, pursue our lives only to be met oftentimes with conflict and contentiousness. And this doesn’t even need to be active conflict, sometimes just our responsibilities and needs feel like they are challenging us. Our goal, then is find the expansiveness in our lives—our joys, our wants, our desires—that will lead to balance. That will allow us to meet those responsibilities and needs with renewed strength and vigor.
How do you find your expansiveness? What is it you need to do so you can “increase?” For me, it sometimes means going to see a movie in the middle of the day.
Confession #3: I’m taking this Shabbat off. Monday and Tuesday I will be in Philadelphia to attend the biannual board meeting of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, my professional association for which I am the board secretary. We meet in person in November and June. But rather than travel just for the meeting, I’m going to go a bit early so I can attend a 25th reunion of my high school graduating class (!). I’m looking forward to connecting with old friends with whom I haven’t been in touch for a while. For me, seeing friends, developing social connections, is another form of balance, of finding that expansiveness.
So how do you seek your balance, your expansiveness? You can tell me next week, when I return.