Take a break, a long break

Part of a series in a year long exploration of resilience.

One key to a satisfying life may be taking long break from our routines. This is a Jewish concept we first read in the Torah this week, requiring a sabbatical for the land every seven years. To uphold a sabbatical, one must have faith that productivity and yield will be restored. And if a sabbatical works for making farming more fruitful it should work to help make us more productive. Taking a sabbatical is not only a key to continued fecundity for the land but also a chance for the individual to flourish. 

Here’s a sabbatical that really amazes me. A couple I know in their 50s set out to spend a year on a boat traveling through the Caribbean. They found their dog a new owner, rented out their home and set sail. At each port they might do water aerobics or play beach volleyball, sip cocktails whenever they want, and watch the sunset each night. I suspect what they may have missed out in income doesn’t compare with the value of soul-restoration from a yearlong seaward sabbatical.

For some academics and clergy, the sabbatical from work is engrained in the arc of a professional career. For the rest of us, the idea of a mere two-week vacation away from our work can invoke anxiety. I marvel at the Europeans who typically take a month long vacation in August. And Torah suggests a year long sabbatical! For most Americans I think that the concept of a yearlong reboot is as mythical as the unicorn.

Just writing about such a sabbatical makes me anxious. Could I leave family and friends behind for a year? Would I be able to leave my work for a year, and would I even have any work when I returned? And yet the lure of sipping a pina colada every night at dusk on a soft white beach certainly is enticing. And the reboot of a long retreat might just help me to be more resilient when tough times are upon me.

I suspect that one has to build up to a real sabbatical. Like taking off one day a week, rather than one year in seven. Just one day a week of no cell phone and no work, no shopping and no schlepping. Perhaps it means allowing myself a glass of wine with lunch, time to read a book, sitting with friends, and quietude to allow my thoughts to flow freely again. Yes, that's shabbat.

As we read parshat Behar in synagogues on Saturday May 12, I’ll be leading a hike to the Potomac River. I plan to make time to sit quietly, listen deeply and hear my own heart song over the rush of the water. As it says in Psalm 23,  “God leads me to water in places of repose; God renews my life.” I might never get a full year sabbatical, but I can take a weekly retreat to the paradise of my soul. Will I see you there?

Rabbi Evan J. Krame