Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Should Working Seven Days a Week Carry the Death Penalty?

Chapter 10: The People-First Life Part 14

According to the Torah, the basis for traditional Jewish law, the penalty for working on the Sabbath is death by stoning. Is this just another example of the grumpy, jealous God of the Old-Testament, or is there something we can learn today?

I don’t think it is a coincidence that the Sabbath was first introduced in the Bible when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. (Moses asked that the Israelites be given a day off.)  As slaves, they did not have control over their time, and needed to do what the taskmaster asked them to.

And we can never forget that in Egypt the Israelites worshipped the idols of the Egyptians. It is amazing to me how often the Israelites tried to go back to Egypt. In fact, the Israelites made it all the way to the border of the Promised Land, chickened out, and tried to go back to Egypt. As a result wandered for 40 years in the desert. The story of the death penalty for working on the Sabbath took place during the time in the desert.

I see the Shabbat Laws in the context of cultural change. The Israelites were a people who would not change.

The draconian nature of the punishment for working seven days a week highlights both the difficulty of getting people to stop working, as well as the importance of a time to recharge for human health and welfare.

In addition, I know from firsthand experience how addictive the always-on experience can be. And from from a business standpoint, there is a competitive advantage, at least in the short run, of being open seven days a week. The death penalty solves both of these issues – it levels the playing field for all businesses, and for all people.

But punishment alone is tough sell for changing behavior. Jewish Laws and customs also describe the Sabbath as a taste of the World to Come (Heaven). Shabbat is a day of contemplation and life-affirming activities. For example, Jews are commanded to have a festive meal, take a nap, and have sexual intercourse.

Let me get this straight, once a week I am commanded to eat well, get extra sleep, and have sex?  Throw in watching a college basketball game and it really is heaven for me.

So the lesson for recovering corporate idolators is this: combine some hard and fast rules to limit work, and plan some fun activities in it’s place.

For me, a day without work means no email, no writing, and no social media. I’ll be honest, it is hard for me, even today. I try, and most weeks I succeed. Living in the post-idolatry world does not mean never making a mistake, or a problem free life, but it does mean a deliberate effort to steer towards the family.

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