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Re’eh: The Downtime Day

This past weekend was packed with activities — Friday night dinner at a friend’s home, my father’s birthday celebration festivities both at synagogue and at his home on Saturday, and a barbeque with friends on Sunday. By the time Monday morning came around, my kids and I were pooped. I decided that rather than telling my children what we would do on Monday, I would instead follow their lead for a change. If they asked to go somewhere, we would go, and if not, we would stay home. I put in a load of laundry and waited to see what would happen.

I was surprised to discover that for most of the day, the kids didn’t ask to go anywhere. At 2pm, they asked to walk around the block to the Bagel store for lunch, and we went. In the meantime, they made tents out of blankets, and played in them. They cut paper chains, played Legos and generally kept themselves occupied. I had to mediate a few brief conflicts over toys, I played a few rounds of tickle-monster and Hullabaloo, but mostly was able to do the laundry and let the kids be. They seemed to relish the chance to do just that.

This week’s Torah portion contains one of the most moving passages in the Torah. Moses explains that God “set before you a blessing and a curse.” Moses explains that when the Israelites finally reach the Promised Land, they will stand on two mountains and recite “the blessing at Mount Gerizim and the curse at Mount Ebal.” What a stirring, visual image of blessings on one peak, curses on the other with a vast valley between them.

Yet, in life, the blessings and curses can often seem closer together, separated not by an abyss, but by a thread. Our blessings can often feel like curses. By over-scheduling, our lives can come to feel like an unending series of obligations, bereft of joy. By taking downtime, we can regain enthusiasm.

In her book, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, psychologist Wendy Mogel identified over-scheduling as one of the major problems plaguing “too wired” families today. She wrote, “Treat daydreaming and fooling around as valuable activities. Being messy, noisy, silly, goofy, and vegging-out are as essential to the development of your child’s mind as anything else s/he does.”

Who knew?!

Well, I guess Mogel would have been pleased with our lazy Monday! By the end of the day, the house was a giant mess, but the laundry was done, and we were ready to face the world again.

Rabbi Ilana Grinblat teaches biblical interpretation at the American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two young children.

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