It is not uncommon for Working Jews to feel as if they are living in two ‘worlds’: one world includes davening, learning, kibud av v’eim, personal growth and introspection, and the other ‘working’ world focuses much more on money, career progression and performance.
There are, undoubtedly, benefits to being exposed to each of these worlds. In fact, we said in an earlier article that the world of work is a perfect opportunity to reflect on the behaviour of yourself and others, and extract lessons from it. There is much to be learned and much growth to be accomplished wherever we are.
That said, we know that it can be difficult to straddle the line between these two worlds. A couple of examples might help to demonstrate this point:
- Often, the pace of life in these two worlds differs. In the first, we can use opportunities such as shabbos to slow down, and reflect on our priorities. Some moments of introspection might be harder to come by at work, where we have our head down trying to focus on the task at hand.
- The benchmarks are entirely different. In the first world, it is much more about the journey, and less so about the destination. Each moment spent learning, davening, giving charity, hosting guests and the like has worth in and of itself. If we learn one daf (page) of gemara but don’t manage to complete the masechta (tractate), that doesn’t make us a failure – far from it, we have used that time wisely. This attitude is harder to achieve in an office environment, where the end-product is all-important.
- The formalities of each world are very distinct, and sometimes alien to each other. The first world includes many practices and formalities that might seem strange in the working world, amongst them shomer negiah, yichud, (and to a lesser extent kashrus and shabbos, as these are more familiar to many employers). The working world has its own set of expectations, perhaps including lavish client dinners, attending networking events, and so on.
It can certainly be difficult to reconcile some of these differences, especially when constantly switching back-and-forth between these two systems. A typical day might start with shacharis and some learning (World 1), then include a train journey into work (World 1/2, depending on how you use the time), a morning at work (World 2), popping out of the office for mincha (World 1), working during the afternoon (World 2), dinner with family/friends (World 1), learning/time spent with family/volunteering/visiting the elderly or sick in the evening (World 2).
So what can we do? There’s certainly not one correct approach, but it might be helpful to take each day with the following points in mind:
- Though this constant switching between worlds may be tiresome, it may well be what Hashem wants for us right now, as it provides us with the opportunity to fulfil mitzvot, and at the same time earn parnassah and hopefully even make a kiddush Hashem at work. Certainly, there are benefits to this dual system.
- Keeping one foot in the working world actually may provide a further benefit, in that it ‘grounds’ us, and allows us to make our Judaism real. When I was at university, I found that term-time was a great time to learn and grow, and when I came home over the holidays, this was the time to consolidate and make things real, to bring what I had learned back into my daily life. So too with work: what better place is there to consolidate our growth. If someone takes on the chumrah of chalav yisroel, this may not be as difficult in Golders Green – where they can pop to the shops and pick up some milk at any point – as it will be a work where, after a long and tiring day, they have entered a staring contest with the Dairy Milk bar in the vending machine…
- There are a number of ways we can ‘soften’ the stark differences between these two worlds. As hinted to above, we can take time during the day and elevate it with Judaism (e.g. time spent learning or thinking on the train), and likewise we can extract helpful lessons from our time working and take these home with us (e.g. a new appreciation for time management – see our earlier articles).
We hope these few thoughts might provide a meaningful springboard, for each of us to continue to develop our own approach to being a Working Jew.
As always, we welcome your own thoughts, insights and experiences.
The Working Jew