Practical Judaism – Vayera

“Looking up, Abraham saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them.”
– Genesis 18:2

Procrastination isn’t a unique character flaw or a mysterious curse on your ability to manage time, but a way of coping with challenging emotions and negative moods induced by certain tasks — boredom, anxiety, etc.

“Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem.”

-Dr. Tim Pychyl, professor of psychology (NYT, March 2019)

Welcome to the new season of the ‘Raising Holy Sparks’ podcast. This year, we will be focusing on Jewish concepts and will be experimenting with ways to take them out of the theoretical and turn them into the practical.

How did it go with correcting the barista’s spelling of your name at the coffee shop (based on last week’s teaching/reflection)?

In this week’s Torah portion of Vayera, we are given a bit more character/personality information about Abraham.

Specifically, there is a scene where Abraham sees three travelers approaching his tent. As soon as he sees these three men (that turn out to be messengers/angels), he immediately runs to greet them.

Aside from the sitting outside of the tent part, this is a moment that many of us might find ourselves in throughout the week. An opportunity or challenge arises and our way of reacting to this challenge hinges on our energy levels or our mood. We have a few choices: we can either run to grab this opportunity or tackle the challenge, we can gingerly approach it and slowly work at it, or we can put it off altogether (but we say that it’s just for temporary).

The quote above from Dr. Pychyl about the source of procrastination touches on an important distinction between moral/ethical work versus emotional development.

If failing to do a task right away was the result of apathy, then people would have to work on their care or concern for the world to become more active in their engagement of tasks. Yet, more often than not, this is not the reason behind procrastination. In fact, we do care about the thing that we are avoiding.

Instead, as Dr. Pychyl points out, the issue is anxiety or feeling overwhelmed.

One of my favorite ways of dealing with anxiety comes from a separate teaching from the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, on how to deal with anger (but it applies to anxiety too)…

“Anger is like a howling baby, suffering and crying. The baby needs his mother to embrace him. You are the mother for your baby, your anger. The moment you begin to practice breathing mindfully in and out, you have the energy of a mother, to cradle and embrace the baby. Just embracing your anger, just breathing in and breathing out, that is good enough. The baby will feel relief right away.”

We can get mad or even try to reason with the baby to stop crying but that won’t work (trust me I’ve tried). Instead, we have to look at our emotions and acknowledge our anxiety. We must say “I see you and I won’t ignore you, so let’s try to do this thing together!”

It was Abraham’s ability to overcome anxiety or feelings of being overwhelmed that allowed him to succeed in maintaining his belief in one God in a world filled with idolatry and worship of false power.

We may not always be able to run to grab an opportunity or to tackle a challenge but neither should we ignore something that rests just at the foot of our “tent”.

Our intentional action (ka’va’nah) for the week:
-Notice when you have feelings of anxiety or overwhelm, acknowledge them, and continue forward. Who knows you might feel a weight lifted off of your shoulders or you might even find something special or valuable as a result of your choice to act.


See you next time!

Thanks for listening and looking forward to being on this journey through the books of the Torah with you!

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