Getting on Top of the Workloadby Rabbi Jacob Rupp November 27, 2018
As we begin to suffer under the horrific subzero San Diego temperatures (when it’s below 65 degrees) it always helps to remember that it didn’t have to be this way. In the generation before the flood of Noah, the temperature was always perfect. It was like Encinitas on a spring day 365 a year. The crops were plentiful, so much so that the midrash says that each harvest would yield enough food for 40 years! Nature was like one big warm Costco.
G-d blessed the world with so much wonderful abundance, peace and harmony that humanity took a full-scale nose dive. And the end result of the flood was the complete redesigning of physicality and the human condition. We had to work harder for our food. We experienced things like fall and winter.
But our sages explain that rather than G-d being punitive, He is helping us reach our highest purpose by creating the circumstances on the ground that bring greatness out of us. Somehow the seasons and the challenges that we encounter are tailor made for us and we shouldn’t longingly look out our windows at the rain and wish for the lazy days of late summer.
The ever elusive but always important goal of “being present” requires us to consider the situation we are in and not long for better days. Let’s unpack this somewhat. There is a Jewish concept that the physical world manifests the present spiritual reality. During spring, there is a renewal/reawakening that occurs in nature, but also occurs on a spiritual level that everyone can tap in to.
The task of winter, therefore, somehow has to follow with the weather. Winter is a time when days are short, nights are long and the weather is (somewhat) cold. Pre-flood humanity didn’t have such issues. At that time in history, G-d saw it fit that mankind should never get cold, never have to deal with much concerning physical existence. But the net result was that people were not interested or capable of making the moral and upright decisions but instead sought to gratify themselves and continually push moral boundaries.
In our day and age, we, in so many ways, are returning to a pre-flood time, when we can custom craft temperature with our Amazon Nest, the amount of light we get with our smart lights, and a litany of other things that seems to suggest that man is above nature. The challenge though is to remember that G-d isn’t giving us this on a silver platter, but man is perfecting nature. It’s as if one could suggest that G-d still thinks we need seasons, even if we don’t.
The value of seasons is that it teaches us that life is a process and not a destination. That no matter how nice and warm we may be at one point, not to think it will last forever. And similarly, when we encounter darkness, to know that it will pass. This flexibility to change brings a person to appreciate that there’s never really a time to be fixed.
From a Jewish perspective, there is no such thing as getting on top of your workload. For as much as we want to seek out productivity gurus and “get it all figured out,” the seasons inevitably teach us that it’s not supposed to be always summer, bright, warm and comfortable. Aligning our expectations with reality is always step one for finding deeper fulfillment.
Of course, this is one of the deep secrets of Hanukkah. The holiday falls out right at the darkest of winter. We light a small candle to illustrate how even the smallest light can dispel a ton of darkness. Even in our most difficult moments we can expect and look forward to a small bit of light.
The depth then of the winter isn’t too long for summer. G-d in His Infinite wisdom realized that we need seasons to keep us productive. When humanity has been given a state of bliss in which to live, where the world is just perfect, we lose our sense of what our mission is. It is only through surfing the waves of life without an expectation of “when will we be there” do we realize we were already there all along.