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Names are instructive, they tell us a lot about the things that they describe. When Jewish custom and history settles on a name for a Torah portion, the name bears a connection to the general theme of the portion. The name of this portion is Bo, which means to enter. …

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Home » Questions of Ethics, Vaeirah

Vaera: Do You Volunteer?

Submitted by on January 21, 2017 – 11:13 pmNo Comment | 368 views

Too Busy to Volunteer

Volunteering is a way of life for many people. We derive so much pleasure from sharing our time, energy and resources with those in need. The sight of a grateful smile, gladdens the heart and inspires the soul. It motivates us to volunteer even more.

But for many of us, volunteering comes only in our spare time. By spare time I mean after we have filled our quota of down time, leisure time and personal time. Only after we have tended to our needs and provided for our leisure, do we give of ourselves to others.

This results in a drop off in volunteer hours when our lives grow hectic. When something new or unexpected is added to our plate, the first thing we slash is our volunteering hours. This makes sense. There are only so many hours in the day; when our day fills up, there isn’t enough time left for others.

Making Time to Volunteer

But there is another approach. The old saying goes, “if you want something to get done, ask a busy person to do it.” Busy people have time for additional projects because they enjoy being busy. If you add another item to their agenda, it makes them happier, not overburdened. They feel more alive, when they are at work, when they are challenged, when they have lots on their plate.

Busy people don’t know the term, “too much”. If they run out of time, they seek creative ways to stretch their time. They might delegate or recruit, but they don’t back away from a task. They get it done.

The rational person clears space in their schedule to make space for new tasks. The busy person squeezes more out of their schedule to make space for new tasks. Which is healthier?

On the surface, the rationalist is healthier; they don’t overextend themselves. But when you dig deeper you conclude that the busy person has a better perspective on life. The rationalist compromises on what they consider secondary or superfluous tasks, to make space for their needs. The problem is the slippery slope; once on the road toward compromise, it’s hard to stop. Today we cut back on volunteering for others, tomorrow we cut back on helping our mother and before long, there is no room in our lives for anyone. The result is lethargy, boredom, loneliness and often sadness if not depression.

People who stretch to accommodate as much as they can (clearly, we cannot stretch beyond our limits, but our limits are usually looser than we think) are filled with energy, drive and ambition. Their days are full and they feel good about themselves as they find creative ways to get things done.

Time is elastic. It stretches to accommodate many tasks and shrinks to accommodate fewer. If we fill our schedule with many tasks, our days are full. If we pair down the tasks that we don’t feel we can accommodate, our days will still be full, only with fewer tasks. We become laborious; we plod along sedately as we fill our few tasks, and have little to show for the time we invest.

The G-d Factor

A separate dimension enters the equation when we discuss taking on tasks that G-d wants us to take on. When finances grow tight, the first expense we cut is often charity. When we make a commitment to keep kosher and we move away from the kosher grocery store, the first commitment we let go of, is kosher. If we volunteer for a G-dly cause, it is the first thing we jettison when we run out of time. And so, it goes, if we need more space in our wallet or day we let go of G-d’s needs first.

Now think about it. Why don’t we have enough money? Is it because we aren’t making enough money? What does it mean when we say, “I’m making a living”? We don’t make our living, G-d’s makes our living. G-d is in charge of our finances. If we need more money to to give our children a Jewish education, it behooves us to put them in a Jewish school and say, dear G-d I am going to need you to give me more money. If we demonstrate commitment to G-d, we give Him reason to take care of our needs.

The same is true of time. The only reason we run out of time is because our day is filled with distraction. If we caught every green light, if we reached people over the phone on our first attempt, if our errands and projects went off without complication, we would find ourselves with much more time. And with G-d in charge of these vicissitudes, it is worth our while to prioritize G-d. If we put G-d at the top of our list, we can legitimately turn to Him and say, “dear G-d, I’m going to need you make more time in my day.

The Tribe of Levi

This is precisely what happened to the tribe of Levi. Have you ever wondered why Moses was free to wander in and out of Pharaoh’s palace with impunity? Wasn’t he a Jewish salve?

The answer, as you surely know, is that Moses, as a member of the tribe of Levi, was exempt from enslavement in Egypt. When Pharaoh first invited the Jews to work for Him, the tribe of Levi refused.

But how did they get away with it?

There was another difference between the Levites and the rest of the nation. The Jews that came to Egypt were all practicing and observant. With time, Jews began to drop their religious practices. They did so little by little. First, they cut out the little things, then the larger things until, before long, they became as pagan as the Egyptians.

The Levites held fast to all the traditions handed down by Abraham. They never compromised on any of it. When life got tough and Pharaoh became more and more demanding, the Levites never pulled back from their commitments to G-d. They never even stopped pulled back from the optional customs and non-obligatory rituals. They remained steadfast in their G-dly commitments.

According to at least one commentator, this is precisely why they were spared from slavery. They showed G-d that they needed their time to worship Him, so G-d granted them time. The other Jews showed G-d that they didn’t need more time, they were content to cut back on their commitments to G-d, so G-d did not provide them with more time.

The upshot is that when life becomes overwhelming and we need more time in our day, we shouldn’t pull back from G-d’s agenda. We can make arrangements for anyone else, but G-d should receive our time and attention. If we give our money and time to G-d, He will give money and time back to us.

This essay is based on Toras Menachem v. 16 p. 16. Exodus 5:4, 1:11, Panim Yafot ad loc and Shemot Rabbah, 5:16.

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