Learn to balance work and life, and take satisfaction in that Shabbat day of rest

By Debra Israel

Every week at Shabbat services, we read that God finished all of the work of creation in six days and took a day of rest.

We also take a day of rest, for this reason, on the seventh day.

This spring, I started thinking more about the idea that we need to “finish our work” in order to take our day of rest.

In our busy world, with many demands on our time and indeed many things we each want to accomplish — for work, family, friends, creativity or social justice — it is difficult to imagine feeling as if our “work” is ever finished.

Our life is more than our work

One of my favorite song lyrics from Charlie King and Bright Morning Star captures this idea: Our life is more than our work and our work is more than our jobs.

How can I allow myself the time every week on Shabbat to stop for awhile?

Perhaps the fact that I have not finished my work may be chalked up to the difference between mortals and the immortal.

I work well and productively when I have a deadline. With that in mind, I might set goals and meet them in time for Shabbat and a well-deserved rest.

But I also know I work well and productively when I have a deadline. With that in mind, I might set goals and meet them in time for Shabbat and a well-deserved rest.

That in itself is an interesting concept. Is it possible for the rest of Shabbat to not be well-deserved? We are told to rest anyway.

If God had not finished all tasks of creation in six days, would we have had a different cycle for our day of rest — perhaps an eight-day week?

Breaks bring benefits

Leaving the philosophical aspects aside, the idea of a Friday sunset deadline to get everything finished carries a practical aspect.

When my family traveled to Israel in the summer of 2019, I experienced both the communal frenzy of the marketplace on Friday pre-Shabbat and the calm of Shabbat itself when (especially in Jerusalem) almost everything shut down for the day.

The recognition that we may benefit from taking a break, a day of rest or even a weekend off certainly is no longer confined to the religious community. Research increasingly supports this notion as well.

Set goals, finish tasks, experience accomplishment

However, that does not mean we make it easy for ourselves to maintain this space and time for rest.

For example, in my work I have organized multiple conferences on “work-life integration”, where we examine the challenges involved in combining meaningful work and life in the face of competing demands on our time.

Mathematician Eugenia Cheng recently wrote about using concepts from calculus to help herself avoid procrastination.

Similarly, mathematician Eugenia Cheng, one of my favorite Wall Street Journal columnists, recently wrote about using concepts from calculus to help herself avoid procrastination.

Cheng found that delaying an unpleasant task actually increased the amount of overall pain associated with that task.

And so, by by trying to finish tasks by sunset Friday, we can achieve some feeling of completion before taking our Shabbat rest — well-deserved or not!

Debra Israel is a member of the United Hebrew Congregation Terre Haute board.

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