Work is not Stress
by Rabbi Michoel Gourarie
Nowadays, pursuit of a completely stress free life is a very common goal. There are thousands of books and programs on relaxation techniques and stress management and there are millions of prescriptions written for tranquilizing medications. While looking to free oneself from destructive stress is legitimate, pursuing an effort-free life is not. In defining stress, Dr Moch, a Jewish writer on stress management, cautions that "what used to be called life is now called stress". Stressing out can be harmful but a healthy level of effort is important and integral part of life's journey.
The saying that "the only place success comes before work is in the dictionary" is absolutely true. With proper planning and strong commitment, many of our goals for self improvement and growth are achievable, but not without effort. The Talmud states that anyone who claims to have achieved and succeeded without effort and toil is lying.
The necessity of hard work to achieve successful growth is part of the Divine plan. Our sages tell us that G-d wanted to make us partners with Him in creation. To achieve this, He created an imperfect world and an existence where growth and self development would be met with some challenge and resistance. Overcoming those challenges and persevering gives us a feeling of achievement and a sense of ownership. In an effortless world we would just be passive recipients of Divine gifts coming to us for nothing. Working hard to achieve makes us partners in the process of Divine creation.
When the Jews left Egypt they had to wait seven weeks for the Divine revelation at Mt Sinai - the event that defined us as G-d's nation. The reason for this is that previously they were so trapped in a spiritual bondage that they were unable to free themselves. G-d had to pull them out and give them spiritual redemption as a gift. But because they had achieved spiritual liberation without their own effort they were not ready for the Torah. They first had to go through a seven week process of character development where they learned to achieve growth on their own. Only then were they ready to become G-d's nation.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe in a meeting with a prominent English businessman once said:
"It is further well to bear in mind that together with the task that G-d places on a person, the necessary capabilities are provided by Him to carry out the task in the best possible way. The greater the challenge, the greater the capability which G-d provides. But wishing to give the human being full credit for the accomplishment G-d does not make it too easy... and there are sometimes difficulties and problems to overcome, which indeed can be overcome, provided there is a will and determination."