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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What Can We Learn About Layoffs From the Story Of Abraham In The Bible?

Chapter 7: Secure Your Identity

In the last post, Janet solidified her identity as a people-first person (as opposed to a company-first person) only after she was laid off from her job.  The company culture was difficult, and put a high premium on putting the company first.  The story of Abraham in the Bible also starts with a journey.  Abraham leaves a society of idol worshippers, starting a journey into the wilderness. Abraham leaves at God’s command, which on the surface seems like very different circumstances than a layoff.  Hold that thought while we return to Abraham’s backstory, which is captured in the Talmud, a collection of stories and commentary that fills in the gaps in the Torah (aka the Five Books of Moses in the Old Testament.)

I shared the Talmud story of Abraham smashing the idols in his father’s shop at the start of Chapter 2.  These clay statues played a central role in Sumarian life.  To challenge idolatry was to challenge a foundational element of the culture, and by extension the power of King Nimrod. When Abraham was brought to court to explain, he did not back away from his central message.  “If you are so wise, King Nimrod, why do you worship gods made by human hands, and why do you call yourself a god when one day you will die like all men made of flesh and blood?”[i]  (You can read the whole story here.)

Nimrod proceeds to jail Abraham for a year without food and water, and then to throw him into a fiery furnace, both of which Abraham survived through divine intervention.  Let’s for the sake of argument, say that this is an allegory and not literally true.  How then, did Abraham survive, in an era thousands of years ago when the rule of the king was absolute, and “dead bodies floated along the Euphrates.?”[ii]  In my opinion, it is because Abraham was teaching a set of values that gained a following.  Rather than create a martyr, maybe Nimrod sent Abraham and his followers into exile.  It was only later reported that Abraham left of his own accord, to  “spend more time with his family.”

What does this say about Abraham’s identity?

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[i] The Classic Tales: 4000 Years of Jewish Lore by Ellen Frankel. Jason Aronson Inc (1993) P 54-56.

[ii] The Gifts Of The Jews by Thomas Cahill Anchor Books (1998) p. 93

How Do You Know What You Don’t See?

Chapter 2: Idolatry Then & Now Part 12

   We perceive the world as a movie, but the reality is millions of disparate data points that we weave together.  One unfortunate side effect of this skill is that we sometimes shoehorn facts into our preexisting perception of the world.  Ever seen this video?  It is a test of your power of observation. Watch and then read on. [Read more…]