Happiness is an enigma in these modern times. Over half of Americans report being unhappy more than half of the time. One of three Americans has been treated for clinical depression. Zoloft and Prozac are the miracle drugs of our generation.
Despite our suburban kingdoms, SUV’s and exotic vacations, we suffer from a severe imbalance caused by the two different personalities battling within us. Unless we create harmony between these personalities, we will forever suffer inner conflict. Thus, adapting an earlier idea of Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik, I introduce “Work Adam” and “Rest Adam” (or “Work Eve/Rest Eve”). These identities personify this lack of balance that has become an epidemic for Twenty-First Century humanity.
In the first chapter of Genesis we encounter Adam I, or Work Adam. I call him Work Adam because he received a mandate from the Creator to “fill the earth, subdue it, and have dominion over it.” G-d wants this Adam to distinguish himself through his productivity and achievement. Wherever you travel around the world, you will see the graffiti of Work Adam, from the Roman Coliseum to the Empire State Building to the DVD player. Wherever Work Adam looks, he sees the need for improvement. A tireless pursuer of justice, he is haunted by the world’s imperfections and he dedicates himself to righting all wrongs.
But while there is wonder and glory connected to Work Adam’s mission, he is missing something of great value – his identity. His name isn’t even Adam. It’s “The Human,” as in “And G-d created the human”. He is the man who defines himself by what he does, rather than by what he is. He is the Armani-suited businessman who goes to pieces on vacations and sinks into depression after retirement. He is the disciplinarian parent who forces opinions and education onto his child and who attempts to mold his offspring through private schools, piano lessons, lacrosse, and SAT classes. He applies his principles of incessant labor to parenting, just as he does to his career. Identity is earned only through work, worth only through accomplishment.
In the second chapter of Genesis, we discover Adam II, or, Rest Adam. Rest Adam is a reflective and contemplative creature. His posture is radically different from his corporate counterpart. Rather than achieve dominion over the earth as Work Adam aims to do, Rest Adam is instructed to “cultivate the Garden of Eden and to nurture it.” He is created from the dust of the earth. He does not seek to master the elements, but to be one with them. His task is not one of building but of preserving, not one of dominating but of nurturing.
Work Adam finds his identity in doing, Rest Adam in being. Work Adam is concerned with the external world, Rest Adam with the internal. All of the creative energy that Work Adam uses to master the elements, Rest Adam uses to master his own inner spirit. Work Adam is always lunging forward, while Rest Adam knows there is dignity in retreat.
So what of our quest for contentment? “Happiness” is achieved only when we find a careful balance between productivity and purposefulness, activity and contemplation. And herein lies the problem. We are unhappy today because Work Adam has almost completely smothered Rest Adam. Squandering our uniquely human gifts, we have made ourselves into beasts of burden, born for the yoke rather than for spiritual yearning.
The Sabbath, once a panacea, is today a pain in the neck. Whereas the Sabbath was once the center of existence, today shops are open all week as people place themselves at the center of an ever-expanding circle of possessions, incarcerating the inner self and suffocating the spirit. Even our moments of rest have lost their transcendence, as we escape into the fantasy world of television and film.
But we can liberate Rest Adam from the dark dungeon in which he is currently confined and reinvest him with his lost dignity. Society can once again champion those who work a full day but then leave work at a reasonable hour to go home to their children.
Rest Adam can only be rescued by divorcing ourselves, at least one day a week, from all things electrical, technological, and mechanical. Insulate yourself from all items that beep, ring, hum, flash and swirl. And perhaps then you will merit life’s greatest blessing: a divine fusion of Work and Rest, with peace at your center.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the Founder and Dean of the L’Chaim Society. He is the author of eleven books, including the international bestsellers Kosher Sex and Dating Secrets of the Ten Commandments.