Steven Covey once said that no one puts on his tombstone, “Stayed at the office late every night.” In business, it is clear that someone who did that sacrificed family, Torah learning and other meaningful aspects of his life.
What about kiruv? We see our lives not as a parnasah – it is pretty lousy way of making a living – but as a mission. We feel we are dedicated to a higher cause and that justifies, nay demands, all the extra time we put into it. Is this true?
Let’s put aside for now the people who suffer from what I call “mosaditis.” These are people who are not dedicated to kiruv but to their specific organizations. They confuse the means – the organization – with the ends – the kiruv process. They turn the organization into an end in and of itself. They fail to understand that the organization is just a kli to serve this end.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting anything less than full loyalty to the organization you are working for or you are running. You need to work today with the type of passion and dedication that befits someone who will be working for that organization forever – until tonight. By that I mean that as long as you are in an organization you should have 100% loyalty. But that should not be confused with the idea that you owe it your life. Loyalty does not require you to stay when other indicators tell you to leave. (It does require that you leave responsibly.) And again, I repeat, even if you are the founder, owner and the CEO of the organization.
People who give their life to one institution are often bitterly disappointed in the end. At some point they become too old, or the needs change, or there is new management or a funding crisis and they get laid off. They somehow expected that their lifetime loyalty would be repaid by a lifetime commitment to them by the organization. But the organization is neither required nor always wise to act in this way. (This issue, from the perspective of the moral requirements of the institution, requires separate treatment, probably too sensitive for a public blog.)
However, besides mosaditis there is another issue that afflicts some of us and that is our addiction to success. Arthur C. Brooks wrote an important article on this in The Atlantic and I urge you to read the whole article. Here is what he has to say:
For many people “success has addictive properties… Praise stimulates the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is implicated in all addictive behaviors… Success also resembles addiction in its effect on human relationships. People sacrifice their links with others for their true love, success. They travel for business on anniversaries; they miss Little League games and recitals while working long hours… They willingly sacrifice their own well-being through overwork to keep getting hits of success.”
Brooks calls this syndrome: “I would prefer to be special than happy” because “Anyone can do the things it takes to be happy—going on vacation with family, relaxing with friends … but not everyone can accomplish great things.”
He notes William James’ observation, “We have an innate propensity to get ourselves noticed, and noticed favorably, by our kind. And success makes us attractive to others.” However, “The goal can’t be satisfied; most people never feel ‘successful enough.’ … Satisfaction wears off almost immediately and we must run on to the next reward to avoid the feeling of falling behind. This is why so many studies show that successful people are almost invariably jealous of people who are more successful.”
…“Success addicts giving up their habit experience a kind of withdrawal as well. …Olympic athletes, in particular, suffer from the ‘post-Olympic blues.’ …Prominent people in politics and media would step back from the limelight” and often suffer from depression and anxiety as a result.
What is the way out of this?
Here is the beginning of a plan:
- Train yourself to stop measuring yourself by what others think of you. In particular, I have noticed that people long for positive feedback from one or two people and, even if they get it from everyone else but that one person, they are down. For most of us, this person is our boss. But you can, over a period of years, learn to decrease your dependency on such specific sources of feedback.
- Never compete with other mekarvim. You can only do this if you are clear about your own kiruv goals.
- Make 5-6 goals. No more than three of these should be from your work and the others from your family and Torah observance. Do not try to balance them once and for all. Rather see them as a set of shifting priorities that require constant adjustment. Sometimes a member of your family will need you more than usual; and sometimes your organization requires you to make a special push. The point is though, not to feel that you have relinquished complete control – that you are not helplessly on some treadmill you don’t know how to get off.
- No goofing off! Seriously, doing your kiruv poorly will be just as unsatisfying as overdoing it. The former can be depressing while the latter we discussed above.
 Arthur C. Brooks, July 30, 2020: https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2020/07/why-success-wont-make-you-happy/614731/
Rabbi Avraham Edelstein is the Education Director of Neve Yerushalayim College for Women and a senior advisor to Olami. Many of Rabbi Edelstein’s foundational publications addressing the world of Kiruv appear on OlamiResources.com: Series on Kiruv and Chinuch, Commentary on Chumash and Yom Tovim, The Laws of Outreach, as well as contributing articles.