Challenges of the Modern World: Keeping Too Busy

by Mordecai Plaut

Not all of the challenges raised by modern life to Torah living are new. Some were familiar to earlier generations. Unfortunately, the extensive collective experience we have with them does not make them easier for us to meet.

One of the most serious challenges to Torah life is the activity level of each individual in modern society. Everyone today, from age five to 90, is busy, busy, busy. Little children have so much to do that they almost need an appointment book, and even people in retirement are so full of activities that they have virtually no free time.

Individually, each of the things that occupies us is important and may be vital. But collectively, they can be overwhelming.

There are the demands of career and family. We must certainly remain "well-informed" about what is going on in our community and around the world. We must set aside time for learning Torah (if that is not our career), and there is the daily davening and our material needs. Many have significant social responsibilities that demand spending significant amounts of time at simchas and communal events.

While everyone complains about the "rat race," we do not always realize how serious a problem it is for someone who wants to live a true Torah life. The complaints about the pace of modern life are that it is too demanding, but the desired relief is to have more relaxation and pleasure. However, when we go on vacation, we often fill it up with vacation activities. There is insufficient awareness of the true consequences for a person's spiritual development.

The press of life figures prominently in the Mesillas Yeshorim as one of the things that interferes with zehirus, caution, the first and most basic step along the path described in that fundamental work to properly serve Hashem.

At the beginning of the second chapter, the Mesillas Yeshorim says that people in ancient times were "rushing and going willy nilly in their habitual ways, without leaving time for themselves to consider their deeds and ways." He says that this is one of the tricks of the yetzer hora. " . . . his cunning is to make everyone work constantly, very hard, and to weigh on people's hearts so that there will be no opportunity to contemplate and to see the path they are following. For he knows that if they but pay the slightest heed to their ways they will no doubt immediately begin to regret their deeds. And their regret will become stronger until they abandon the sin entirely."

This basic need for time to think, in contrast to the daily routine that prevents one from thinking, is fundamental and essential. If one takes time for reflection, he is almost guaranteed success. If not, . . .

This is made very clear by the Mesillas Yeshorim in chapter 5. "Engagement [with the world] is necessary for man for purposes of parnossoh, but excessive engagement is not, and it should not become so great that it leaves him no space for his avodoh. Therefore we were commanded to set aside regular times for Torah. We have already mentioned that this is most necessary for man in order to reach zehirus, as R' Pinchos said, Torah brings to zehirus, and without it he will absolutely not reach it."

In the time of Yirmiyohu Hanovi people were not kept busy with telephones, email and newspapers. But the challenge was there to be met, and today, we must overcome it in the form that it presents itself to us.

We must set aside regular time for Torah study, and regular time for reflection and evaluation of what we have done and plan to do. That is the way -- and the only way according to the Mesillas Yeshorim -- to zehirus which is the first and crucial step on the path of the yeshorim that leads to yiras Hashem and kedushoh.

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