We’re Getting Tired. It’s Normal, and It’s A Big Problem
It’s not something we’re proud of, but we all seem to be running out of steam.
Do you remember the emotions of October 8th, 9th and 10th? Our heightened sense of purpose, our intensity in tefillah, our commitment to Talmud Torah? Do you remember the commitments that we all made? Tehillim ‘round the clock? The desperate hopes that perhaps this was finally the Geulah Sheleima? It’s not pleasant to admit it, but we’re not thinking, feeling and acting in the same way. None of it is quite the same as it was a few weeks ago.
Of course, some of this is the natural course of the year, each and every year. We often feel a powerful sense of direction in the days following Elul, Tishrei and Simchas Torah. By the time we’re lighting the last Neiros Chanukah we are usually pining for a few days of long awaited vacation. We’re looking forward to some down time, a break from the routine.
This year, however, it is difficult to justify our regular indulgences. I’ve heard it from member of our shul, from chaveirim and from colleagues. How can we plan a vacation when our brothers, cousins and nephews are fighting in Gaza, and Rachmana Litzlan, falling in battle? How can we spend money on Chanukah gifts and vacations for our children when hundreds of thousands of Israelis are still refugees? Shouldn’t we just send the money to those who need it far more than us?
But on the other hand, does it really help the situation if we deprive ourselves of rest and enjoyment? Has it not been a difficult year for us as well? Are we narcissists or normal for thinking this way? It’s hard to weigh up each moment of our personal lives with national importance.
At there core, these feelings and conundrums are all approaching a singular truth: We cannot go on like this forever. No one can. It’s simply too much.
So we turn away sheepishly, with overwhelming guilt. We rationalize that Hashem cannot possibly want or expect us to live with the same intensity as we did in the first days and weeks of the war.
In a deep way, we feel that these rationalizations are the words of the Yetzer Hara. We know that our Chaylim are fighting day and night. They are not taking vacations. Their families are not getting the much needed rest that they have undoubtedly earned either. And there’s the guilt again. Can I really not push myself to learn for another few minutes? Can I really not make it to minyan? So we push a little harder. Sometimes. Because none of this guilt changes the reality that carpools, homework, finals, work and family life are all tiring.
We’re caught in a web of wanting to do more, feeling the waves of hopelessness and despondency. So we spiral. Late nights doom scrolling. Constantly refreshing the pages to see if perhaps there is some glimmer of hope. It’s a tough to watch.
We comfort ourselves in the knowledge that we’re winning the war. We know that Tzahal is slowing taking control of Gaza; fulfilling their promise to eradicate our enemies. But that’s not what fills the news feeds. All we see are families of hostages desperate for a joyful end to the most excruciating pain imaginable. And as the days turn to weeks, weeks become months, we see more and more antisemites around the world gathering to call for the annihilation of our homeland and nation. Negotiations for the future of Gaza that never take Jewish safety and sovereignty into account.
Most tragically, the deaths of our precious Chayalim are impossible to process. Slowly we are becoming numb to the pain as we read another list of inconceivable losses. Our children have been exposed to words and worlds that their young ears should never need to hear. They no longer flinch. The word “kidnapped” is now part of life.
All of this raises the question: What does Hashem actually want from us right now?
It dawned on me during a recovery run this week.
Every runner knows that there are long runs, fast runs and hard runs, these are the runs that tax and exhaust us. But then there are recovery runs. These runs exist as a strange paradox. On the one hand, they are still a little tiring; but they are also slow enough and controlled enough that we return after the run with more strength and greater confidence.
Recovery is not just for sick people. The Oxford English dictionary defines recovery as “the action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost.” That’s what we’re aiming for here; it’s based on a profound understanding that we are capable of more. It’s an admission that we have oceans of potential that is yet to be uncovered, and that we have work to do to actualize that potential. The ups and downs are part of the training.
A recovery run allows us to keep moving and keep growing even when we are tired. This is the Avoda that we need right now.
In place of unsustainable and anxious anticipation, recovery gives us sometime to do. Something that’s still achievable when we’re tired, burned-out and numb.
What is recovery in Torah and Mitzvos? Perhaps the best translation is Teshuva. Most of the time, we translate Teshuva as “repentance”. Sometimes, we translate it as “return”. All of this centers around sin and failure. But Teshuva is ultimately the process of building greater resilience, of becoming a better person because of the set-backs. That’s real recovery.
The most important feature of recovery is its purpose. It’s slow for a reason: To enable us to get stronger and avoid injury. It is an intentional slowing-down to prepare for harder challenges in the future.
This is our challenge and opportunity right now. If you’re feeling like you need a break, that you’re running on empty and that you just want to stop; this is not the time to give up! Klal Yisrael still needs us. Instead of grinding to a guilt-ridden halt, we can find ways to recover without stopping.
The Avoda is to ask ourselves: What can I in my Avodas Hashem to regain the motivation to push myself a little harder later? What chessed, learning, davening, mitzvah or middah can I work on while getting ready to upgrade the intensity? So what if I’m getting tired?! Thats part of the program. The real question is whether we’re growing or not. Ultimately, the question is: Where can I engage in Teshuva right now?
The Medrash (ב”ר כא ו) notes:
אֵין וְעַתָּה אֶלָּא תְּשׁוּבָה – The word “now” always means Teshuva
Living with purpose here and now is the ultimate recovery. It ensures that we are always getting better, always growing, always developing.
This broader perspective is the seismic shift that Hashem is asking from us right now. For many of us in Chutz La’aretz and in Eretz Yisrael, this war and these tragedies have awakened us to the singular reality that we can no longer live on auto-pilot. Hashem is calling each of us to take control of our lives, to honestly adjust our Avoda to ensure that we are moving forward and making a difference. He is asking us to reevaluate everything, from our daily decisions to our plans for the future. To find ways to live for more than just ourselves; to become the people that He needs us to become.
The world has changed since October 7th. Have you?