Az men hot a sakh tsu ton, leygt men zikh shlofn.
This poor proverb serves as the black sheep in a flock of Jewish maxims that denounce ineffective use of time. (Some even go so far as to explicitly promote responsibility—hence their conspicuous absence from my line of greeting cards.) But this wildly unbalanced ratio is not the least bit representative of how the average Jew approaches a task (or an overwhelming series of accumulated tasks).
The truth is, the dizzying display of diligence demanded by our array of expressions does not always reflect an existing work ethic, but just as often aims to inspire those among us who need a little help in that department. For while many a Jew does enjoy a good schnoz-to-the-grindstone session, plenty of us are active proponents of the palpable power of procrastination; of relying on the stress and anxiety (our most available emotional states and greatest motivators) derived from putting things off until the last possible moment to fuel our productive fires.
Stranger in a strange dichotomy
But we Jews are no stranger to this kind of dichotomy existing among us, and we almost always see it as an opportunity to engage in one of our favorite (and by “favorite” I mean “only”) sports: debate. From our sage Rabbis spending lifetimes arguing over interpretations of scripture, to American Jews at odds over which local deli has the best pastrami sandwich, it’s no secret that we have a weakness for a well-waged war of words. But there’s a point at which even we have to reevaluate the number of simultaneous arguments we, as a people, can sustain at once. With that said, are these divergent duty-themed devices really worthy of becoming yet another bone of contention destined to divide us forever?? I say nay! Indulge me while I suggest a radical and potentially controversial theory intended to unite us and free up our argumentative energies for more deserving disputes. ...
One feeling to rule them all
Let me ask you this: what if our opposing approaches to obligations are fueled by the same inherent quality; one that is present in all of us, but manifests differently in each of us? What is this curious common denominator? Anxiety! What else?!
Anxiety, and the assuaging of it, is very trendy right now, but we Jews have had the market cornered for generations—think of us like the Amish people set against the farm-to-table phenomenon, or the Good Humor Man awash in the tumult of the food truck frenzy—and I’m living proof that the neurotic Jew cliché is a cliché for good reason. The bad news? Our propensity for anxiety is apparent. The good news? We each have a choice in how we channel it. Some of us ...
- Deny it.
- Embrace it and put it to good use.
- Just learn to manage it.
- Even make careers of it.
But with this said, even though anxiety may manifest differently or to varying degrees in each of us, it’s important to acknowledge that deep down we’re all neurotic:
- If you prick us, do we not bleed? … and then immediately sterilize the affected area while googling “flesh-eating bacteria + what to look for?”
- If you tickle us, do we not immediately feel uncomfortable and wonder whether we’ve misjudged the progress of our relationship? (I mean, are we really at the “tickling phase” already? Well, why not? Why must we always drag our feet when it comes to intimacy? Is it the fear of inadequacy? An emotionally-unavailable father?) And immediately after feigning laughter in spite of our inner questioning, do we not feel guilty for having misrepresented ourselves as being completely comfortable with said tickling?
- If you poison us, do we not sidestep grim death by neurotically refusing to leave open beverages unattended for fear of just such an attack upon our lives? And do we not listen with manic focus for the “pop” of the tamper-resistant safety seal when opening all drink containers for the very same paranoid reason?
- If you wrong us, do we not keep silent in the moment, hold a grudge for the rest of time, and worry every time we see you, afraid you’ll sense that something’s wrong and want to discuss it?
I propose that our seemingly oppositional approaches to obligations (the go-getters versus the go-grab-a-nosh-and-a-nap-I’ll-get-to-it-laters) are merely superficial stratagems, and, sadly, they obscure a shared sensitivity to our inescapably-inherent quality; one that has the power bring us together.
Still not convinced?
Ok, we’ve established that some of us are always (and most of us are sometimes) propelled by anxiety-producing procrastination, but don’t you think it’s possible that the episodes of efficiency “enjoyed” by our proactive polar-opposites are fueled by the exact same neuroses which so thoroughly render us incapacitated? Perhaps these people, in their more methodical moments, compulsively cross things off their “to do” lists because, when items are left to linger, it’s not long before their manic minds cause minor molehills to mutate into momentous and menacing mountains.
But before we hold hands (after a thorough sanitizing, of course!) and sing “Kumbaya,” there’s still the matter of this matzah ball of a maxim hanging out there.
“When you have a lot to do, go to sleep"
Obviously this proverb is preaching to the procrastinating choir, but can it possibly be of any use to the proactive party as well?
Let me ask you: What happens when there’s just too much to do? When tackling every task is simply out of the question? Therein lies the universally-applicable wisdom of this proverb! When such a situation arises, isn’t sleep (Ambien-induced or otherwise) the only way to successfully escape an insurmountable index, and, by extension, our conscious catastrophizing?
With this said, it makes sense why so many of us run to our shrinks every week ... only to lie down! If we just made the contrary commitment to lie down at home, close our eyes, and enjoy a 50-minute nap, it would be a hell of a lot cheaper and apparently far more effective at alleviating our anxieties.
Even if only temporarily. …
Oh, and please don’t let your anxiety of public “speaking” or self-expression prevent you from commenting and sharing your thoughts on tackling overwhelming tasks, taking advantage of therapeutic slumber, and anything in between!
After knocking repeatedly to no avail—and silently cursing her husband, Maury, for continuing to avoid getting the doorbell fixed—Estelle resorted to using her teeth to insert and turn the key in the lock. Once inside, she finally allowed the dozen or so bags and packages (G-d forbid she make more than one trip from the car!) to fall to the parkay floor. …
Estelle: “Maury?! Do you think you could help me?! I nearly had a stroke—G-d forbid!—schlepping everything from the car in this fakakta heat! Helllloooo?!?”
As Estelle wiggled her tingling fingers in an attempt to regain sensation, she got her first look at the state of the house. Not one thing had changed since she’d left to run errands over 3 hours ago. Their matching luggage still sat empty waiting to be hauled upstairs, and the two baskets worth of laundry that she’d done that morning hadn’t budged from the dining room table. …
Estelle: “You’ve got to be kidding me! MAAAUUURY!?!?!“
With still no response, Estelle moved into the kitchen and her blood pressure soared again as her eyes fell upon a similar scene. The dishes she’d washed, now long-dry, were still in the rack, and the couple’s digital camera (and its cord!) still sat, uncharged, mere inches from an outlet. Speechless, Estelle made her way over to the sink for a glass of water where, upon closer inspection, she realized that the dish rack wasn’t exactly how she’d left it: her husband’s chipped coffee mug and favorite cereal bowl were missing.
Her nostrils flared wildly as she gulped tap water and tried to count slowly to 10. Just then, she heard Maury’s distinct slippered shuffle from down the hall. Estelle spun around and, sure enough, there stood her husband, slightly flushed and squinting against the afternoon sun. The telltale asymmetry of his toupee meant one of two things, and (unless he’d gotten frisky all by his lonesome) she knew exactly what he’d been doing. …
Estelle: “Maury!!!!! Are you meshugga?!?!?! I left you a list of things to do, but, by the looks of it, other than managing to feed yourself (which wasn’t even on the list but G-d knows you’d manage to do it even if the house was on fire), you haven’t done one thing! We’re meeting our cruise in two hours, we’re not even packed, the house is a complete mess, and YOU DECIDE TO TAKE A NAP?!!?!?!”
With a yawn and a scratch, Maury shuffled toward the refrigerator. …
Maury: “My father always used to say, When you have a lot to do, go to sleep.”
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