The Torah Is A Great Guide For Finding Balance In Life

One of the things that I love about a Torah life is the guidance you get. You get time allocated to holy things and to being social and to study and most of the rest is devoted to work.

I confess that while I was preparing this post, my computer moved more slowly than I would like, leading me to say, "F—! What the f—, man?"

Yirmi posts to Hirhurim:

When it comes to finding balance between our daily pursuits in life, Rebbe Nachman’s metaphor ("Life is a narrow bridge; the main thing is not to be afraid") may not work very well, but according to other interpretations, it’s quite appropriate. The way I read it, you should always have emunah, and never fear anything in the world except for Hashem. We should always be striving to feel closeness, yearning, love, devekut, to Hashem. Studying Torah, or doing any mitzvah (or anything else), is much less valuable if while you’re doing it you forget that Hashem exists. Rebbe Nachman taught to make our Torah studies into prayers — while learning, we should pray that we can fulfill the teaching. I think it was the Besht, maybe someone else, who would go around whispering in his students’ ears that Hashem exists, so they would retain devekut while learning. Also, while working to make a living we should always have in mind that we are working so we can afford Tzedakah, and other mitzvot like honoring Shabbat and educating our children in Torah.

Of course we should try to increase the time we spend learning, but what about also increasing the time we spend doing mitzvot? What about 3 hours working, 3 hours studying, then 3 hours doing mitzvot (volunteering, helping a neighbor, dispensing tzedakah, healing the sick, teaching, etc.), a hour doing hitbodedut, an hour exercising, and then time with family? Hitbodedut, both personal prayer and meditation, is a great mitzvah that many neglect. Exercise is a mitzvah, since it helps us accomplish the mitzvah to take care of our health.

Right now it seems that modern orthodox spend little time learning, despite the vast importance of this mitzvah, and haredim spend little time working, despite the requirements of Pirkei Avot and the promise in the Ketubah to provide for our families. Are there signs of a movement toward greater balance? How can this be accomplished? We need to find ways to work part time and study part time, despite the cost of living. This is not just personal — it’s social, structural, cultural. We need a movement of balance and variety. Each person needs to find their own balance, what they’re good at and what they can do, but we as a society (or a group of societies) need to enable it somehow.

JADED TOPAZ POSTS: While being a lovely concept in theory or fairy tales, "inner balance" is generally for laid back pipe smoking, kabbalah quoting Breslov hippies in faraway lands that dont include New York.
I dont think this spiritual bliss formula is for every personality.
For instance, have you ever seen litigators and successful lawyers looking to achieve this inner balance.
Not everyone is the mediator.

Its clearly a personality thing.Not every personality can accomodate balance.

One can be fearless and driven and very successful without the need to achieve inner spiritual bliss and balance.

For some, there is nothing more annoying than "laid back".

"Soul correction" and "meditation" are not concepts I can relate to.
I like the logical/analytical scholars/thinkers, as opposed to the rational/philosophical ones.
So I wont be filling the Rambam’s prescription for hour long meditation sessions TID.
There are no definitive answers for "pausing to think about life and purpose" even if one "focuses their heart" on it.
And even if one meditates often and runs after many different rebbes.

SHLOMO POSTS: When I was at Gush a few years back, I remember someone asking, "If RAL’s philosophy is to value both torah and madda, then why in recent years has he spent almost no time on madda?"

This question really rubbed me the wrong way. Is there really a requirement to devote a certain number of hours each day to each thing you find important? Does it not make more sense to direct your efforts at whatever priority is most urgent? Clearly the Rambam did not originally think that Torah was more important, then reconsider and decide that medicine was more important. Rather, at each point he addressed what he saw as the more pressing need. The same is true of RAL in a broader sense: It would be inefficient for a rosh yeshiva to spend half his time investigating medieval literature, or a professor (like RAL almost became) to be constantly preparing sichot mussar. That does not mean that the rosh yeshiva and professor have different values, just that they are dividing the labor between them.

This seems like the right opportunity to examine what Aristotle actually meant by the middle path:

"To have these feelings (fear, anger, pity) at the right times on the right occasions towards the right people for the right motive and in the right way is to have them in the right measure, that is somewhere between the extremes." [Quoted in A.K. Griffin, "Aristotle’s philosophy of conduct", London, 1931]

Thus, the middle path does not mean avoiding extreme emotions. Rather, it means taking each extreme some of the time, whenever appropriate. In truly extreme circumstances, it would imply constantly extreme rather than "balanced" behavior.

(The Rambam’s attitude to anger fits much better in this framework. He is saying that, in practice, there is no appropriate time for anger. Not that the ideal of the middle path has exceptions.)

There is still something to be said for balance in life as a way of not getting "out of touch" with the world around you. And beyond all the above factors, one must know practical halacha, and frequent Torah study of some sort generally is a core component of one’s ever-present relationship with God. But those considerations allow for much more flexibility than does the ideal of having "balance" at every moment of your life.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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