What can the light of the Menorah teach us about avoiding “burnout”?
Parshas T’tzaveh opens with the mitzvah to light the Menorah in the Mikdash, which must be done “tamid” (Sh’mos 27:20), a word typically translated as “constantly.” However, as Rashi points out, in this context, that cannot be its meaning, as the candles were not up in flames 24/7. Instead, Rashi comments, the light of the Menorah was “tamid” in the sense that it was lit “consistently,” every evening without fail. It may not have burned continuously at all hours, but the fact that it was ignited each day at its proper time allowed it to achieve the status of tamid.
Rashi provides a similar explanation of the korban tamid, the twice-daily offering introduced later in our parshah (Sh’mos 29:38-42). He explains that this sacrifice earned that designation, tamid, not because it was brought non-stop throughout the day, but by virtue of being offered with consistent diligence every day at its proper times, once every morning and once every evening.
The Chofetz Chaim extrapolated that this understanding can help us set reasonable and healthy standards in our daily mitzvah observance. Our engagement in both talmud Torah (represented by the Menorah [Bava Basra 25b]) and avodas Hashem (represented by the avodah of the korbanos) need not entail performing the same action at all times. By our new definition, a masmid – from the same root as tamid – is not one who learns at all hours of the day without any down time; and the title baal(as) chesed is not limited to one who gives selflessly without an allowance for a personal life. Instead, a person exemplifying the quality of t’midus (consistency) need only follow the model from our parshah: establishing regular times for learning, prayer, and mitzvah observance. Such a schedule allows one to supplement the day with other obligations: earning a living, attending to family, social responsibilities, and self-care (eating, sleeping, recreation). Addressing each avodah at its proper time is the truest fulfillment of tamid.
The Chofetz Chaim was known for putting these words into practice, as he would reportedly extinguish the lights in his beis midrash every evening, encouraging the talmidim to get a good night’s sleep. He understood that if something had to “burn out,” better it be the candles than the students.
By remaining dedicated to Torah learning and mitzvos daily, any interim hours spent in business or pleasure are not considered an interruption in t’midus (M’nachos 99b). In fact, by explicitly considering working and resting hours as a means to help facilitate a life of study and devotion to Hashem, one can elevate and transform those mundane activities into religious pursuits, as well (Rambam, Dei’os 3:3). When a day is filled with mitzvos and their supporting cast, there is truly never a break from avodas Hashem!
With this understanding of consistency, we can avoid burnout while still accomplishing “Shivisi Hashem l’negdi samid” (T’hilim 16:8).