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Worry Makes The World Go Round

Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43 )

by Rabbi Stephen Baars

But chances are it’s going to be in the wrong direction.

Most of the top 10 prescription drugs are for worry and/or its related symptoms (Med Ad News 1999 ]609-530-0044]).

That's just the visits to the doctor, the rest of the time isn't spent twiddling our thumbs. The average person doesn't work for anything in particular except to be free of worry.

Poor people think money will cure them of worry, rich people think being healthy will free them, healthy people worry about the future, parents worry about their children, children worry that their parents don't drive them crazy with their worry. It never stops.

An awful lot of people make a living out of your worry. The pharmaceutical industry, banking and insurance, for starts. If people didn't worry they had enough food, a lot of farmers could sleep in. That also goes for clothing - don't want to be caught with not enough underwear in case a world war breaks out, do you? Then there's the auto industry selling the latest model which you don't need except for the fact that your present car has you worried it might break down in the middle of the Mojave Desert.

And you live in Michigan!

Now, I'm sure you are thinking that these are all legitimate worries, and having enough batteries, candles, toilet paper and an oversized fallout shelter, just may come in handy.

And they might.

But having all of them, and 20 more never stopped anyone from worrying. Worry doesn't have a price tag, it's a disease.

We all know people who worry more than us, and we can all see how self destructive and pointless it is. It's like worrying you might get sick, you might save yourself from any particular disease, but the worry is killing you! The same could be said for people (not uncommon) who worry they won't enjoy themselves. Does anyone notice the contradiction here. Let me spell it out, you would enjoy yourself a lot more if you stopped worrying! I can't tell you how many brides and grooms worry at their own wedding that everyone is having a good time, not noticing that the guests are not having a good time because they know the "happy couple" can't relax.

Worry is a disease, but it can't be cured through any medicated cream or herbal tea. The good news is, it can always get worse, you can always worry more than you are now. The bad news is, unless you work on it, you will!

* * *


God tells Adam, because he ate from the fruit he shouldn't have, "By the sweat of your brow you will eat bread." (Genesis 3:19) Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch the preeminent German Rabbi of the 19th century points out, believing this to mean "hard work" is a common mistake. If that were the verses' meaning, then a better phrase would have been the sweat of your back. Rather, the brow means worry.

If one thinks of the human body as a machine, then clearly worry is not in the original design specifications. It's an added feature (excuse my cynicism). The car was made for groceries and now you are hauling cement, something has to give. Man wasn't designed to worry, it's not in our DNA, we can't handle it, we fall apart, literally. In car manufacture parlance, it voids the warranty.

You may worry you don't have what to live with, but if you worry, you won't live.

* * *


Of all the characters in the Torah, the one whom we see sleeps the most is Yaacov. Lest you think he always needed his eight hours, the Midrash tells us, Yaacov had remarkable strength and could go for long periods of time without sleep. When the Torah tells us Yaacov slept, it's telling us this is one of the few times he actually slept and that it didn't happen very often.

How rather unusual then to find, that in the middle of one of Yaacov's greatest crises, in facing his greatest adversary, where he himself is "very frightened and distraught" (Genesis 32:8) Yaacov decides to take a nap! (Genesis 32:14)

Why now?

Because Yaacov knew he had a bigger enemy to beat, one that takes no prisoners, holds no bars, suffers no pity or mercy. Who is relentless and constant.


* * *


The famous book of Jewish ethics, The Way of the Righteous (Orchat Tzadikim), tells us, "Who is the one who is never free of worry? The one who has a goal that is too high for himself."

In other words, because we have goals that are way out of range of what we can practically achieve, we are constantly spinning our wheels and never finding solace in any real, meaningful accomplishments.

However, this is only part of the answer. I asked Rabbi Noah Weinberg zt"l, how can a person know what goal is too high? Imagine if Einstein's mother had chastised his son for picking a goal way too high. Einstein wanted to figure out the Unified Field Theory. He wanted to understand how all the laws of physics related to each other, in other words, it would explain how everything works together (not bad).

Not that I am a physicist or anything, but I could have told him: it doesn't.

Just joking, I think.

Anyway, Einstein didn't get it, but along the way he came up with some pretty nifty stuff about relatives and of course he knew what "E" stood for.

Entertainment Weekly.

Up until Einstein everyone thought "E" stood for Elephants because it was in that kids' song.

Anyway, imagine if his mother would have said, "Albi!" That's what his mother used to call him, "Albi, forget about everything, I'm fed up with you trying to figure out everything, I need a washing machine. And, Albi, for crying out loud, will you get a hair cut, you look like a floor mop. Why can't you look like Sigmund, you know, he's one of our relatives."

And that is how Einstein (Albi) came up with his theory of relativity.

* * *


So Rabbi Weinberg said, there is only one goal that is too high for a human being.

To be God.

Picture the scene, you are on a plane, in the air, the guy sitting next to you is white knuckling it. You turn to him and say, "You can relax now, we've taken off."

He answers, "No I can't, I'm keeping the plane in the sky!"

He wants to be God.

He wants to control the outcome.

With everything in life, there is a line that beyond which there is nothing more you can do. On this side of the line is you, on the other is God. Cross that line and you are going to need valium.

Yaacov knew his line. Once he got there, he took a nap, it's now up to God.

Even if you don't believe in God, there still is a line.

If you want to live long, and more importantly if you really want to live during the years you are existing, understand and respect your line.

Worry may make the world go round, it's just going to be in the wrong direction.

* * *


Question 1: What do you worry about the most?

Question 2: Where is the line on those things you worry about?

Assignment: Take easy things and work your way up, before you start a new endeavor, ask yourself, where is the line and force yourself to stop before you cross it. Keep in mind, you need to figure out the line before you start. Once you start it's much more difficult to be sensitive to where the line is.


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