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Counting the Omer with

Day 17 — Limiting Work/Business

Miyut sechorah • מיעוט סחורה

By Rob Mass, Pleasantville, New York

Pam Rollins, Dallas, Texas
Sponsored by the Clergy Team of Temple Emanu-El, Dallas
in Honor of Pam Rollins, incoming President of The Mussar Institute

Limiting work is the next step towards internalizing Torah — containing an important lesson about time and how it should be used. The Torah recognizes the importance of work. Pirkei Avot teaches “without flour there is no Torah.” (3:17). Nevertheless, you must balance the need for parnasah (earning a livelihood) with the need for Torah. It is obvious that while you are making deals, responding to customers or patients, or recordkeeping, you are not devoting yourself to study or contemplation of Torah. So, you need to limit the time you spend working. Some suggestions: limit your workday and workweek — celebrate Shabbat as a true no-work zone; set a half hour a day as a break for Torah study (if you cannot take a half hour, make it 15 minutes); create a set time that you will leave work every day. My own practice is to try setting as sharp a boundary as I can around the workday and workweek. I have found that what seems to be a work emergency in the moment, seemingly requiring me to stay late, is often not that.

But simply not being at work is not sufficient to provide the environment needed to internalize Torah. There is a psychic dimension to miyut sechora as well. Your body may leave the workplace, but your mind may not. You don’t need to be at work to be mentally still working — e.g., worrying about how people thought about your work last week; reviewing decisions you made; thinking about what you will do on Monday. One personal technique is that at the end of my workday I write down what I have left unfinished or will need to work on when I return. I try doing that every Friday (but, ideally it could be done every day), so that my mind is clear to focus on non-work matters (like Torah study). Failing to do so is like failing to close programs on the computer and having them run all the time. It clutters up your mind, so that even when you are not at work, the “work program” is still running.

The lesson to limit work does not apply solely to parnasah. Our lives are filled with other forms of doing — cleaning, cooking, shopping, friends, social engagements — and these days each of these activities has corresponding emails, Instagram, Facebook, etc. For the purpose of this lesson, that activity or work needs to be limited every bit as much as your job. Our electronic devices are designed to be addictive, to pull us towards them and, therefore, away from Torah. You need to figure out ways to limit the presence of these devices. On Shabbat, you can shut your devices off completely; during the week, you can turn off all the bells or buzzers that go off with each new posting. You can also try to separate yourself physically from your devices — leave your devices in another room or on another floor.

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