Rabbi, I appreciate your invitation to join your classes, but I just don't have time in my life for spirituality right now. My week is packed with work, family commitments, fitness and a little socialising and time to relax. I don't see where I can fit in spiritual activities. I don't want to burn out, do I?
There's a story that I'm sure you've heard before, and it has probably been forwarded to you as an email hundreds of times, but I will tell it anyway. There was once a rabbi teaching a classroom full of students. He started his lesson by saying, "My dear students, today is our last class together before you graduate. For this special occasion I am going to do something different. I am going to teach you the secret of a good cholent."
The students were aghast. Cholent, the traditional Shabbos stew, is a classic of Jewish cooking, but hardly a profound subject for a rabbi to teach his students for their final lesson.
The rabbi took out a crockpot and filled it to the brim with potatoes. He then turned to his students and asked, "Tell me, now that I have filled the pot with potatoes - is the pot full?"
"Yes," his students replied, confused by the simplicity of the question, for there was no way to fit in any more potatoes into the pot.
With a smile the rabbi took out a bag of beans and poured it into the pot, and the beans managed to slip between the spaces among the potatoes. "Ok," said the rabbi, "now is the pot full?" Looking into the pot the students agreed that it was indeed full.
Without missing a beat the rabbi took out a bag of barley and poured it into the pot. The small kernels meandered effortlessly between the cracks and crevices among the potatoes and beans.
"Now it's full," said the students.
"Really?" said the rabbi, taking out his collection of spices. He then began shaking generous amounts of salt, pepper, paprika and garlic powder all over the pot. The students watched dumbfounded as the spices easily settled into what had seemed to be a completely full pot.
The rabbi, obviously enjoying himself, asked again, "Is it full yet?"
Without waiting for the answer, the rabbi produced a jug of water and proceeded to pour its contents into the pot. To the amazement of his students, he was able to empty the entire jug of water into the pot without a drop spilling over the sides.
"Alright, " said the rabbi, a look of satisfaction on his face. "Now it really is full, right?" The students all nodded in agreement. "Are you sure?" prodded the rabbi., "Are you absolutely certain that I can't fit anything more into this pot?" Suddenly unsure of themselves, the students looked at each other nervously and said, "Surely you can't put anything else into there!"
With drama and pathos, the rabbi raised a finger in the air, lowered it slowly and flicked a switch on the side of the pot, turning on the heating element lying beneath. "You see," said the rabbi triumphantly, "I just filled the pot with the most important ingredient of all - warmth. Without it, the pot may as well be empty."
The rabbi paused, and looked deeply into the eyes of his stunned students. "My children," he finally addressed them, "you are about to leave my class and go on to live busy lives. In the big world out there you will no longer have the luxury of studying holy texts all day. In time you will be consumed by the pressures of looking after a family and making a living. But always remember this: your material pursuits are just the potatoes and beans of life. Your spirituality, that is the warmth.
"Until the fire is turned on, the pot is full of disparate ingredients. It is the warmth that unites them all into one single stew.
"If you don't maintain a spiritual connection, through praying every day, studying the holy books, and keeping focused on the true meaning of your lives, then you will end up as a cold cholent - very busy, very full, but completely empty. When you have lost touch with your soul, your family life will suffer, your career will be unfulfilling, you won't even be motivated to exercise.
"But if you keep the fire burning in your soul, if you stick to a daily schedule that nourishes the spirit, even if it is only for a few minutes a day, then those few minutes will bring warmth and inspiration to all your other activities. A spiritual connection imbues your entire life with meaning, keeps you anchored and directed, inspired and motivated. It permeates all you do with a sense of purpose, and makes you succeed."
"You may be wondering," continued the rabbi, "how will you have time for all this? How will you be able to juggle the demands of material life along with your spiritual development? You will find the answer by looking at the cholent. Did you notice that though the pot seemed full of potatoes and beans, barley, spices and water, when I added the warmth it did not overflow? Never think that adding spirituality to your schedule will overburden you. On the contrary, it will bring everything else in your life together, because it will remind you why you do all these other things in the first place - you work in order to be able to live a life of meaning, you get married in order to bring the best out in yourself and your spouse, you have children in order to educate them in the ways of goodness, you keep fit in order to have the strength to fulfil your mission. Spirituality is the warmth that does not take up space, it creates more."
With a loving smile the rabbi concluded his farewell with words of wisdom that I think apply equally to you:
"You should never think that you are so busy that you can't afford to concentrate on your soul. The truth is, you can't afford not to. May G-d bless you, that each and every one of you should always be a warm pot of cholent."