It is so cathartic to throw things away. Old files, stacks of papers I never glanced at a second time, even books that are no longer of use. Yesterday, I filled the dumpster behind my office with everything I no longer needed and went home with a much lighter load.
When I moved into an office three years ago, I was focused on growing my business and expanding. Last year, I made the momentous decision to shrink my business and focus on the work that I love rather than on managing. And that meant I no longer wanted to work outside the home.
Yesterday, Dan and I spent the day emptying the office I had loved and worked so hard in, to bring everything back home. It was a bittersweet decision, to be sure – I love being out in the world and around dynamic startups and entrepreneurs. The energy of popping into a neighboring office just to say hello and chat is encouraging.
And yet, I love working in my still-new home. The brightness of natural light all around me, the quiet and peace of my space, moving freely between rooms, letting the music play loud.
Since I decided to shrink the business, I have loved my work even more. Finally, I have clarity: that I don’t like managing but rather, I love the art of creating campaigns and implementing them by my own hands. I don’t want to delegate; I want to do.
As I emptied file drawers and desk drawers, took books off of shelves and piled boxes of paper clips into crude boxes, I stumbled across a brochure that I never remembered having.
It says on the cover, Derech Etz Chaim, in English and in Hebrew, and it quotes Robert Frost’s famous poem, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
An Israeli institution with a Robert Frost quote on the brochure? My kind of place. What was this, I wondered, shoving the brochure into my car rather than burying it in a box I may never sift through.
Simply put, it’s a yeshiva, a place for higher Judaic learning, with beautiful pictures of Israeli landscapes and eager young men (no women) looking approachable and interested in studying Torah.
Derech means path or way; etz chaim is tree of life. How did I come to have this brochure? It’s not a place I would go nor would they accept me. And yet, as I looked over their website, I saw phrases like “down to earth” and “Torah study with Torah living,” “spiritually refreshing.”
I am eager to get on the path toward the sustaining tree of life, to bloom with its leaves and flowers. I, too, can feel the mystery in the learning, wish for the transformation of the prayer scarf around my shoulders and the ancient words to seep inside me.
What could the meaning be in this gift wedged on a bookshelf at my office? Transformation is happening everywhere I look, to me and through me. Not this kind of transformation, though.
And so I wonder.
One of my favorite parts of the Sabbath service is when the Torah is returned to the Ark. The entire congregation faces its open doors, like arms beckoning for an embrace. The ornately outfitted Torah scroll is placed gently inside, and the doors remain open as the congregation sings, usually in an upswell of voice, the final words of a blessing that goes, etz chayim hi, la mahazikim ba, translated as, “It is a tree of life for those who grasp it, and those who draw near it are fortunate.”
I love how all the voices unite into one voice, and the sound grows louder as we turn our faces up to the heavens and sing out the words we know by heart. Grasping onto this tree of life, this life source, this rootedness in tradition.
Perhaps I love it because it is a point in the service when all voices meld into one collective voice, with strength.
That a religious boys’ yeshiva would quote Robert Frost gives me hope that there is a way to be all that we are simultaneously, that no part of ourselves might conflict or pose a problem for fully embracing life.
“The main focus of the learning day is Why we do mitzvos,” it says on the yeshiva’s website. Why. Asking why, wondering why, penetrating beneath the layer of just do it. That’s the kind of learning I can embrace.
Why we do what we do is one of the quintessential questions that separates us from the animals. In this day, today, I wonder if we might elevate our tasks by asking why, not just doing, but wondering for the meaning behind it all. Let’s give it a try.