Is Work-Life Balance Really Possible?



by Rabbi Evan Moffic

Even though I’m only 33, I know that people today work harder than ever. During my childhood, my dad had a highly-professional job and still made it home by 5:00 pm. Today my own life and those of my friends and congregants suggest that this is a rare occurrence.

Has technology simply meant that we work more? Has globalization meant we are competing with the world? Yes and yes. Does that mean that finding a true balance between working and living is impossible? No.

Looking at the life of one of history’s busiest and most successful figures, we can find a framework and tips for doing so. That figure is Moses. Consider his successes and his failures:

Successes:

  • Led Israelites out of Egypt
  •  Received 10 Commandments
  • Taught the Torah to the entire people

Failures:

  • Paid little attention to his wife and kids
  • Got impatient when people did not to live up to his standards
  • Lost his temper with his boss (God)

As is often the case, we can learn more from his failures. What can we learn?

  • Integrate life and work more closely: Aside from his siblings, the only family member Moses let into his work life was his father-in-law Jethro. Rather than send his wife and children off to live in Midian while he led the Israelites across the wilderness, Moses could have made them part of the journey. We can let our kids know about our work and feel part of what we are doing.
  • Respect other people’s priorities: Moses responded to the death of his brother Aaron’s sons by stating simply that God has His reasons for what happened. Rather than dwell on this loss, he needs to focus now on achieving the mission God had assigned them. Aaron responds to Moses with silence. The implication was that Moses’ words did not bring comfort. While Moses could focus solely on continuing their mission of reaching the Promised Land, Aaron needed to mourn for his children. Moses did not grasp Aaron’s concerns.
  • Keep perspective: Our work can feel all-consuming. We can begin to think the our whole lives rest on the next decision we make or meeting we attend. 99% of the time, it does not.

Rabbi Larry Kushner writes of his friend, an Episcopal minister, who threw away every piece of paper on his desk at the end of every month. “What about the important ones?” Kushner asked him. “Not to worry,” the minister explained. “If it’s important, it’ll come back.” We need not adopt this exact practice to recognize that every single piece of paper does not require urgent attention.

Work and life can never be completely in balance. As we grow and change, our priorities and needs shift. What does not change is our need for meaning. We seek meaning in our work and our families. To be in balance is to express our best selves and find deep satisfaction in them both.

Rabbi Evan Moffic serves as rabbi of Congregation Solel in Highland Park, IL. He loves synagogues and the way they bring together members of every generation to study and experience Jewish wisdom and tradition.

Originally posted at Simple Wisdom

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One Response to “Is Work-Life Balance Really Possible?”

  1. Larry Kaufman

    I find it hard to forgive Moses for the first of his failures, his neglect of his wife and children — and I also find it hard to credit him as a success for having received the Ten Commandments, where his role was essentially passive. However, I credit him with his successes in talking God down when God got miffed, over the calf etc.

    I’ll also give him a pass on what you characterize as his not grasping Aaron’s situation at the time of his sons’ death. Moses is between a rock and a hard place, but elects to put the needs of the people ahead of the needs of his brother. Think about LBJ at the time of JFK’s assassination, where his first responsibility was to protect the stability of the government of the U.S.in light of a crisis whose depth was uncertain.

    Finally, I think there is a missing element when we talk about the work-life balance — not only what we owe to our work, and to our family, but also what we owe to ourselves. Life outside the workplace has to have room for a personal role beyond that of husband/father. Moses had no life beyond his job — he not only didn’t take his kids to a Cubs game, he didn’t even go himself. That’s also part of his failure.

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