We spoke in the previous blog about making the most of one’s time: turning breaks at work into opportunities for personal growth and reflection.

This is certainly an empowering idea: we are at work to earn parnassah (livelihood), and we must:

  1. use our working time to produce the best possible results for our company and our clients (this is not only a hashkafic approach, but also a halachic (legal) one – to do otherwise might be considered goneivah (stealing));
  2. use our break times, lunchtimes and any down-time during our day for our own personal growth and development (we have previously talked about learning a sefer or researching a possible tzedakah (charity) fund during these breaks).

However, there is a risk that this approach essentially creates ‘dead time’ during our day – we must be at work, and indeed be productive – but ultimately we might conclude that there is no more to be done during these hours. So we will just keep our head down, plough through the day, and wait for it to end end , so that we can return to our ‘real priorities’ – time with family, learning, davening, etc.

To have such an outlook is certainly a positive start (our priorities are centred correctly), but we leave an 8-hour hole in the middle of our day, which we are not using in any way in our own development or the service of Hashem. So how to make the most of this time at work?

Chazal (our sages) introduce the following concept: there are 70 nations on earth aside from the Jews, and there is something to be learnt from each of them. This might be how to behave in a certain situation, or indeed how not to behave.

Incredibly, this is said to be the origins of the chabad movement. They learnt quality of determination from the Nazis: just as the Nazis sought out every Jew in hate, so the chabad movement sought out every Jew across the globe in love – hence their setting up of centres in even the most remote locations on the planet. Chabad saw in the evil a middah (character trait) worth emulating, and channelled it in the right direction.

Even the natural world has something to teach us. The gemara notes that:

If the Torah had not been given, we would have learned modesty from the cat, the avoidance of theft from the ant, marital fidelity from the from the dove, and good manners in marital relations from the rooster.

With this in mind, we turn to our workplaces, the perfect place to put such thoughts into practice. We are surrounded all day long by people from all different ‘nations’, engaged in all kinds of behaviour, some worth emulating, and some certainly not. The task is to know that lessons are worth drawing out for ourselves, and which are better left untouched. This will be the subject of a later blog.

In the meantime, each of us should take a few minutes each day and consider the events we have witnessed at work. This might concern our own behaviour or that of others. How did that person handle the situation? How would they handle it next time? What accounts for the difference. This thought process alone should bring us to greater clarity and growth.



The Working Jew.