One of the most cliché rabbinic job interview questions is, “Tell us about something you don’t do well,” or, “What do you find to be your greatest challenge.” To which rabbinical candidates traditionally reply with pablum like, “I care too much.” “I’m too sincere.” “I get very caught up in my work.”
Well, my answer should probably be, “I can’t vacation well.” In fact, I suspect many rabbis have the same problem.
Vacationing is important for anyone whose career demands 24-hour days and whose regular interactions involve matters of physical or emotional life and death. Surgeons, therapists, rabbis, we really do need to get away; if we don’t, we overload and burn out.
I can always tell when burnout is coming: I start to feel nervous all the time, like there’s something I haven’t taken care of.
I start to prepare for classes that I won’t give for two weeks.
I’m in the middle of Shabbos morning and suddenly five different to-do items pop into my mind, items I know I’ll remember afterward and yet I keep mentally repeating them lest I forget them before Shabbos ends and I can write them down.
I see people and immediately ask myself whether I haven’t congratulated them for an accomplishment or consoled them for a loss.
So I know that vacationing is important. I tell other people to take vacations. I tell myself to take vacations. But I’m just bad at it.
One day in, and I’m nervous about how things went in shul that morning.
36 hours in, and I’m thinking about the people in the hospital.
Two days and I’m on the phone to aveilim (mourners).
Our shul secretary laughs at me when I call in; she knows.
One reason I’m so bad at it is that I worry about people. These are my people, and I want to make sure everything is all right for them.
Another reason is that I worry about all the work building up for my return.
Another reason is that I put on my rabbi outfit for Shacharis in the morning and then need to put it on again for Minchah, and changing in between is too much of a pain, so I end up in a tie all day.
And a fourth reason is that being a rabbi has become so much of what I do, and so much of a justification for my existence, that I have a hard time seeing myself - justifying myself - as anything but a rabbi.
Which is not healthy. And which is why I haven’t taken vacation time since last December (unless you count two days in New Jersey).
And then I wonder why I may have prehypertension.
So we’re going to my in-laws for a few days.
I'm packing my mental list of people with whom I want to check in from the road.
I'm packing a few sefarim to prepare a major shiur for mid-January.
I’ll still post my daily Torah Thought and Jewish Law emails, because Torah cannot take a vacation.
I’ll probably put up a couple of blog posts, too, since I find blogging more restful than not, actually.
And I’ll enjoy having hours at a time to spend with the Rebbetzin and our Rebbekids. And, Gd-willing, I'll return prepared to tackle the world again.