Judaism views every activity in life as an opportunity to connect with the Almighty. Nothing is trivial or without purpose.

We’ve been given specific mitzvot to uplift the seemingly insignificant parts of our lives, yet we can lose ourselves in the daily grind, subsumed by the superficial. The allure of counterfeit success beckons. It’s easy to mistake illusion for truth.

Rather than clearly viewing our endeavors as a means to a higher end, the success and recognition for which we strive can morph into ends in themselves. Self-absorption can literally encapsulate one’s spirit. The larger picture—the broader expansive vision—becomes blurred and out of focus.

If work, as a means to provide for my family, morphs into an all-consuming demand, what am I living for?

Burnout is a real issue, both in the workplace and at home. It negatively affects productivity, morale, relationships and individual success. Much has been written about how to prevent, recognize and deal with it. The pervasive symptoms include:

  • Feeling lethargic and depleted;
  • Feelings of negativity and isolation;
  • Reduced productivity.

Avoid Spiritual Depletion

In Parshat Tzav, the Torah provides a lesson in the prevention of burnout. “A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the Altar; it shall not be extinguished.”1

The constant fire on the Altar symbolizes the union between G‑d and the Jewish people. It literally sheds light on the spiritual cause and means for the prevention of burnout. Spiritual depletion can contribute to burnout. If one’s inner essence—the soul—isn’t properly nourished, eventually one will feel the effects.

A plant, for example, will begin to droop if it goes unwatered for a period of time—a signal that it needs to be nourished. Likewise, a depleted soul will signal to a person’s mind and body that something is amiss.

What does the continual fire on the Altar represent in our lives? Fire can represent the soul’s yearning to ascend, to be unified with its Source. It also represents the exuberant love of life and one’s inner desire.

Rabbi Moshe Alshich (1521-1593) explains that the “fire burning in the Tabernacle symbolizes the love for G‑d that burns within every soul.” In addition, this fire represents G‑d’s love and constant presence in our lives.

Connecting to G‑d

The Divine fire within our hearts and souls is fueled by our enthusiastic desire to come close to G‑d. Studying His Torah, revealing His presence in the world and fulfilling His commandments are the means by which to achieve this great end.

The Hebrew words mitzvah and Tzav (the name of this week’s Torah portion) share a common root that means “connection.” Creating a connection is at the root of each of G‑d’s mitzvot. The mitzvot act as connectors, creating a spiritual connection between the Almighty and His creations. They are imperatives, not suggestions. Of course, a person has free choice to ignore them or to pretend that they don’t apply to him or her, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are commandments and not just recommendations.

What would happen if you repeatedly ignored your electric bill or pretended that traffic laws didn’t apply to you? Eventually, these things would catch up with you. Likewise, there are consequences to ignoring G‑d’s commands, which can manifest themselves both spiritually and physically.

Chassidic thought teaches how to renew one’s zest and enthusiasm for life on a daily basis. Without daily rejuvenation, most of us can become complacent and unable to move outside of our so-called comfort zones.

Extinguish the Negativity

A story2 is told of the founder of the Chabad movement, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi. When he was a young student, his teacher, the Maggid of Mezritch, repeated the following verse, from this week’s Torah portion, 10 times: “A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the Altar; it shall not be extinguished.”3 He explained that the Hebrew words, lo tichbeh (“it shall not be extinguished”), can also be read as “the ‘no’ (the symbol or all negativity) shall be extinguished.” He went on to expand on how the deep teachings of Chassidism ignite and fan the soul’s natural tendency to ignite a passionate love for G‑d. As this fire burns, it “extinguishes” all negative influences that try to derail the positive drive for holiness and the burning desire to be nearer to G‑d.

Studying G‑d’s Torah, fulfilling His mitzvot and revealing His presence in the world are ongoing purposes. Yet somehow, one can become passive and complacent, without a sense of renewal. Our ongoing relationship with G‑d and his Torah must not become merely intellectual or overly academic; this lacks emotion, warmth and spirit. Torah study and observance should set our souls, minds and hearts aflame.

The secret of ongoing vitality and living with renewed purpose is that the spiritual inner flame needs to burn continually. Should there be a lapse, negativity can fill the resulting void. During those times, we may feel pessimistic and distant from the Torah’s refined and lofty expectations of us.

Even in times of struggle, we need to keep our fire burning. We must, as the saying goes, “keep on carrying on.” Yet when we are burdened with carrying negative “spiritual baggage,” it may seem nearly impossible to live up to the Torah’s imperatives and ideals. But it’s just the opposite! Being overcome by negativity and self-doubt are the real obstacles to overcome.

The Divine flame may be dormant, but the embers are still there, awaiting to be reignited. Your inner flame is awaiting to be reignited.

Making It Relevant

  1. Keep in mind that even what you say and what you eat have significance.
  2. Mindfully acknowledge any signs of burnout. Rather than being reactive, be proactive before these signs become overwhelming to you. In addition to exercise and proper nutrition, reach out to any and all true Torah sources for a boost and spiritual nourishment.
  3. Remember that we become what we repeatedly do and, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe often said, “Think good, and it will be good.”
  4. Keep a set schedule for daily prayer, Torah study and self-reflection.