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Balancing Life and Work

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King Solomon conscripted laborers from all Israel-thirty thousand men. He sent them off to Lebanon in shifts of ten thousand a month, so that they spent one month in Lebanon and two months at home. Adoniram was in charge of the forced labor. - 1 Kings 5:13-14

The Torah portion for this week is Terumah, which means "contributions," from Exodus 25:1-27:19, and the Haftorah is from 1 Kings 5:26-6:13.

Recently, I visited a major international corporation that employs thousands of people all over the world. The nice thing about the company is that it provides everything its workers could ever need. There is plenty of food on hand, a gym, and even a game room where workers can relax - at least in theory - the room was empty every time we passed it. I thought this was great until I overheard one of the employees talking to a fellow employee in the elevator. He said, "It's great working here. I practically live here - I almost never need to go home!"

What ever happened to the work/life balance?

It's interesting that in this week's Haftorah reading, as King Solomon began to build the Temple, he set up a rotation system where men would work for one month and return home for two months and then repeat the cycle again. The ratio he established was one-third work to two-thirds time at home with family. If you translate that ratio into our daily grind, it means out of 24 hours each day, we should work for one-third, or eight hours a day, and have two-thirds of each day for our personal lives.

Not surprisingly, that's been the norm for quite some time in the modern workplace. However, these days, the lines are getting terribly blurred and many people suffer from overworking and they end up burning out. This has adverse effects on families, friendships, and even our community lives. Can this possibly be how God intended us to live?

In Psalm 127, King David wrote a psalm in honor of his son Solomon. The theme of the psalm is that David would not get to build the Temple but Solomon would. David accepted God's decision and acknowledged that if God didn't want something to happen, it was useless to try: "Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain" (v.1). In the next verse, David took this idea one step further by asserting that overworking is a waste of time as well. "In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat . . ." (v.2).

God expects us to do our part in working for a living. However, we are fooling ourselves if we think that overworking guarantees a greater result. It seems that Solomon heeded this advice.

Maybe it's time to re-evaluate our work/life balance. When our work infringes upon living a physically healthy and spiritually conducive lifestyle, we have made a wrong turn on our path of life and it's time to get back on track. The health of our personal future as well as that of our society depends upon it. Let's never get too caught up in making a living that we forget to live a good, godly, and balanced life.

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President


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