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doctor's orders
middot diligence stories doctor's orders

doctor's orders

Written by  rebbetzin malkah

art-takenumberVisitors entering his room in Halberstadt would find him [Rabbi Yisrael Salanter] with a German book open in front of him, performing physical exercises, following the instructions and diagrams with utmost precision as ordered by the doctor.

As has been previously related, he took up carpentry for a while, because the doctor had so ordered. To him, the commandment to preserve one's life was as binding as any other mitzvah, and doctor's orders important rules of halachah, on the same level as the rulings of the Shulchan Aruch with respect to forbidden and permitted foods, which had to be carried out to the letter.

Once he was seen gazing at the heavens at twilight. He was waiting for the exact moment when the stars would appear. Having apparently been ordered by his doctor to rest from his studies for three days, he obviously faithfully complied. As the third day was ending, however, he stood outside to mark the exact time when the restriction would end. "Just as it is forbidden to delay Torah study for a minute, because of the mitzvah," he explained, "so is it forbidden to begin one minute too early, because of the mitzvah of guarding one's health."  -- The Mussar Movement, Volume 1, Part 2, page 192

So often, we can become wrapped up in the concept that the spiritual hovers so much above the physical.  But the truth of the matter is, without the body which houses the soul, we don't have the ability to perform mitzvot.  We know this, of course, but how often are we ensuring that we get as many years as possible out of our bodies?  Even deeper than that, what are our focuses in life?  Are they obsessive or life-giving?  And when is enough enough, already?

meticulousness or madness?

As with any regimen, dealing with the physical or spiritual, we have the options to either ignore it completely, comply with it fully, or go overboard with it. Diligence requires us to walk with a level of meticulous and dutiful observance to whatever routine in which we are engaged.  But when does that diligence appear as madness, or something gone astray?

Usually, the signs of diligence gone wrong are pretty obvious.  We notice that whatever we are applying our efforts to leaves other areas in our lives in great neglect.  While we need to concentrate on certain routines (especially if we are sick or in therapy), if we spend too much time on these areas and neglect other parts of our lives — family, friends, home, work — then we are setting ourselves and those around us up for disaster.

Far too many times, I have seen people take the quest for spirituality and religious observance to such extremes that they no longer appear like normal people.  Their every breath is consumed by this quest and it isn't long before they start to forget about people's feelings, needs around them, and basic human interaction.  This kind of behavior is not only imbalanced, it smacks in the face of diligence as being out of whack.

balance the demands

The key to walking a life of diligence and functional living is to assess all of the different demands that stand before us each day.  I like to think of it as the "take a number" approach.  In many government-run systems, everyone takes a number based on type of service needed and priority.  This not only breaks up the groups by level of demand, but ensures that the lines move in an orderly fashion.  One particular clerk isn't bombarded with many different requests; instead, she focuses on one or two types of requests and is efficient in processing them.  The successful component in living is to not only prioritize, but give the right time and attention to the tasks at hand.  By processing too many tasks, or focusing completely on one to the point of madness, we are guaranteed to come up short.

Rabbi Salanter shows us the balance of adhering to the doctor's orders so as to preserve life.  However, when that task was expired, he returned to his other duties so as to not fall short in those.  Let us choose to be focused and work with zeal without forsaking all else in our lives. May we take the advice spoken from his example and be meticulous, determined, but balanced in all things.

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