Abraham seems to have been in love with hard work. The frenetic pace of his life would have been unusual even in our times. When he was young he stood up to all of Mesopotamia and preached monotheism. During this time, he was tried and imprisoned for ten years, was tried again and sentenced to death by fire (which he survived) and wrote no fewer than 400 books on monotheism.
He moved to Israel at the age of 75 and continued at this pace. He set up and managed hospitality inns all over the country, launched himself into a war to free his nephew, had a baby when he was 86 and circumcised himself at the age of 99. Not one to shirk from hard work, he defended the people of Sodom before G-d, had run-ins with the kings of Egypt and Philistine and had another baby at the age of a hundred.
When he was 137 years old he undertook a difficult three-day journey through the mountains to bind his son Isaac and when he returned, he found that his wife Sarah had passed away. He immediately purchased a plot for her burial, organized her funeral and mourning period.
When this was all said and done, you might imagine that Abraham would take a break from his hard work. By now Isaac was 37 years old and perfectly capable of taking over, but Abraham would have none of it. Shortly after the mourning period for Sarah, he sent his servant Eliezer to find a bride for Isaac and sent Isaac to find a wife for himself.
Abraham was not ready to give up and retire. He had lots of hard work left in him and rest would have to wait. I doubt that we can keep this pace, but we can learn a lesson from it.
Do you work all year so you can take a vacation in the summer or do you vacation in the summer to rejuvenate and go back to work? Do you work all day so you can rest in bed at night or do you rest in bed at night so you can wake up and work in the morning?
Because we sink into bed at the end of the day with a true sigh of relaxation and wake up with a groan of unhappiness, we erroneously think that we are more satisfied at rest than at work. Nothing is further from the truth. We are never as satisfied as when we are at work. When we are fully engaged, overcoming challenges, dealing with crises and making progress, we are vibrant, alive and abuzz. When we are relaxed and at rest, we grow indolent and sluggish.
We enjoy the moment of transition from frenetic pace to rest, but overall we are happiest when we are at work. It doesn’t feel that way while we are at it, but in retrospect we can admit that we never felt better than when we were hard at work.
This is because G-did not create man to relax, but to be purposeful. When we are pursuing a goal and accomplishing a purpose we feel synchronized with our essence. Being at rest is not natural to us and while we enjoy the break for a little while, we soon yearn for a return to the fast pace.
The other day I went for a hike along the river with a geologist, who kindly explained the historic and geologic features of the river. I had always known that the water flows more quickly over the boulders, but I never knew how these riffles are formed.
He explained that flood activity moves boulders from one section of the river to the next, creating a deeper pool where the rocks were removed and a shallower section where the rocks are deposited. The build-up of rocks forms a lip that the water must overcome and to compensate nature ensures that the slope of the riffle is steeper than that of the pool. The water thus runs faster in the riffle than in the pool.
My friend explained that if nature had its way, rivers would be of a continual gradually declining slope and would thus be one long pool of deep calm waters. But since this rarely happens, nature compensates with a series of pools and riffles. This is one area where I think he is mistaken. From a spiritual point of view, rivers should have riffles and pools as do humans.
G-d created the world for humans as indicated by the fact that humans were the last species that He created. Since the world was created for us, nature should and does reflect us.
Humans cannot maintain a continual pace of hard work. We must stop on occasion to relax and rejuvenate. But we cannot relax for long, at some point we grow restless and search for something to do. The calm pools represent our periods of rest and the riffles represent our periods of hard work. Just as we must toggle back and forth and cannot maintain a continual presence in either sphere, so it is with nature as expressed by the alternating pools and riffles of the river.
When sitting near rivers, I usually seek out the riffles. That is where I can hear the rush of water and watch the river wash over and around the boulders. It is active, engaging and interesting it seems to convey excitement and purpose whereas the pools convey calm and relaxation. If we only had pools, we would miss out on the excitement of the riffles. If we only had riffles, we would miss out on the pools.
We need both. Calm waters run deep just as times of relaxation are conducive to deep thought and serious reflection. But the shallow riffle is where the river shows its awesome capacity just as we display our ingenuity and resourcefulness when we encounter the challenges and difficulties in the riffles of life.
I always thought that the purpose of the riffle was to feed the pool, my friend taught me that the opposite is true. The pools are formed to create the riffles. The same is true of human nature. We don’t work to rest. We rest in order to work because only at work can we discover our true selves.
Abraham surely rested from time to time, but he clearly required less rest than most. What we can learn from Abraham is that rest is overrated. The best condition in life, is the frenetic pace of hard work. That is when we come alive. That is when we are most fully human. That is when we most reflect our creator.
He made us for a purpose. Our task is to find that purpose and pursue it. If at times we must rest, it is for the purpose of gathering the strength to continue our work. Just as the pool is formed for the purpose of generating a riffle, so is our period of rest meant to invigorate us for the challenges that lie ahead.
May we find the strength to complete our tasks, the creativity to overcome our challenges and the wisdom to appreciate the vibrancy that such trials bring.