We live in a culture that often competes with how busy we are, how overworked we have become. Sometimes it is genuinely true, but other times, saying ‘I couldn’t possibly do any more’ is selling ourselves short.
Consider this letter by the Rambam, a revered rabbi and physician of the 12th century. It was written in 1199 from his home in Egypt where he served as leader of the Jewish community, but also as the court doctor to the Sultan. He wrote it to his friend and translator, Rabbi Samuel ibn Tibbon, as an apology for why he had no time to actually meet in person:
More than you would be happy to see me, I would be happy to see you, though it worries me that you would have to make the dangerous sea trip. My advice is that you should not risk it. What advantage would you have in coming here, except that you would see me for a few minutes? If you want to have a private audience with me and discuss matters of wisdom, don’t even hope for one hour during the day or the night. I will write you my daily schedule:
My duties to the Sultan are very heavy. I must see him every morning to check on his health. If one day he doesn’t feel well, or one of the princes or the women of his harem doesn’t feel well, I cannot leave Cairo that day. It often happens that there is an officer or two who needs me, and I have to attend to healing them all day. Therefore, as a rule, I am in Cairo early each day, and even if nothing unusual happens, by the time I come back to Fostat (the Jewish community a few miles away), half the day is gone. Under no circumstances do I come earlier. And I am ravenously hungry by then. When I come home, my foyer is always full of people – Jews and non-Jews, important people and not, judges and policemen, people who love me and people who hate me, a mixture of people, all of whom have been waiting for me to come home.
I get off of my donkey, wash my hands, and go out into the hall to see them. I apologize and ask that they should be kind enough to give me a few minutes to eat. That is the only meal I take in twenty-four hours. Then I go out to heal them, write them prescriptions and instructions for treating their problems.
Patients go in and out until nightfall, and sometimes – I swear to you by the Torah – it is two hours into the night before they are all gone. I talk to them and prescribe for them even while I am lying down on my back from exhaustion. And when night begins, I am so weak, I cannot even talk anymore.
Because of all this, no Jew can come and speak with me in wisdom or have a private audience with me because I have no time, except on Shabbat. On Shabbat, the whole congregation, or at least the majority of it, comes to my house after morning services, and I instruct the members of the community as to what they should do during the entire week. We learn together in a weak fashion until the afternoon. Then they all go home. Some of them come back and I teach more deeply between the afternoon and evening prayers.
That is my daily schedule. And I’ve only told you a little of what you would see if you would come!
It is true that sometimes we lead busy lives, but Gevurah, strength, leadership is our ability to notice that very often we have the capacity to squeeze a little more out of life. Perhaps Gevurah starts with a question: When I dig in, is there more I can do? More often than we might expect, the answer is ‘yes’!
מחשבה/Machshava (Think about it): Everyday this week, think of someone that inspires you in how much they get done in a day. How do they do it? What tricks of the trade might you learn from them, and think about one or two ways you might try to emulate them.
מעשה/Ma’aseh (Try it): This week, notice when you hear your inner voice say, “I can’t”, and then precisely then, push forward a little more. It may turn out that briefly ignoring that voice gets you over the hard part and you find a bit more strength than you thought.