פרק ב משנה יז
The buzz word of today is self-care. You must take care of yourself. It will enhance your productivity. It will help you become a more emotionally stable person.
We see ads all over the place touting this message: You deserve designer clothing. You deserve a five-star vacation. You deserve to indulge in today’s newest food craze. You… Hmmm…maybe I do. After all I have been through, I really do deserve to buy myself those fancy new shoes or splurge on those stunning earrings. After all, it’s all in the name of self-care; it will keep me sane!
But if you stop and listen to yourself, you just might hear that voice you are trying to run from – and it might be saying that you’re fooling yourself. This is not what you need. Self-care doesn’t just mean throwing yourself into gashmiyus. It might mean taking care of yourself emotionally. Tuning in to yourself. Listening to what your needs really are and sticking to your truth.
Sometimes we really do need that indulgence for our emotional well-being. But that idea of “self-care” can confuse us and really muddle our brains. How do we know if it is just an excuse or if it’s a compassionate gesture toward ourselves?
The Mishnah gives us the answer: .”וכל מעשיך יהיו לשם שמים”
That is the question we can ask ourselves. Am I doing this for my own desire or will it really help me to better serve Hashem? Oftentimes, if we listen to our inner voices, we gain clarity about the difference between our real needs and our desires. And if we do determine that its a need, let’s make it l’shem Shamayim.
The Mishnah is telling us that we can make all of our actions l’shem Shomayim. Serving Hashem is not limited to the performance of mitzvos. A royal chauffer doesn’t only serve the king through driving him. Part of his job is to make sure that the car is working and is kept in perfect condition for whenever the king might need to use it.
We do have to eat and sleep. If we have the intention that we are doing the mundane so that we’ll have the energy to serve Hashem, then the mundane becomes part of our avodas Hashem.
Sometimes self-care serves the same purpose as eating and sleeping. It might mean getting in touch with ourselves. Being honest with how we are feeling and not pretending. It can be expressing our truths. And sometimes self-care might be an extra outfit. It might be a night out with friends. It might be an extra-large iced coffee.
But when we are aware that we are indulging for our emotional stability, to help us stay calm or to help us with simchas hachaim, then that indulgence can be avodas Hashem.
Getting caught up in today’s fads, convincing ourselves that over-indulgence will make us happier or better people is just that. A fad. It won’t last.
I have a friend who needs to have the latest style – in everything. It might be in strollers, clothing or new floors. She talks and talks until she convinces herself that after she gets whatever new item is on the agenda, she will be so happy. But she never is. She might think her preoccupation with all that is new and in vogue is her way of caring for herself, but really, it’s the byproduct of a desperate hope to fill the emptiness inside of her with things.
By nature, I am a less needy person. I am usually happy to make do with what I have. So if I need a stroller, I can buy an out-of-style used one, as long as it works. If my walls need painting, I can manage by having the cleaning lady wash down the walls really well instead. Recently, though, I felt like my whole house needed major fixing up. I tried doing my band-aid fix ups, but it wasn’t helping. When I was honest with myself, I realized that I felt unsettled inside, as if I myself was in disarray. I looked around said to myself, it’s okay to take care of the basics! And you’ll feel better if you do. I don’t need to do anything fancy, but I need to feel like a mentch in my own home!
So I ordered new window treatments for the few rooms that had only disposable shades. I got a great deal on some floor samples for a room that didn’t have furniture, and as I write, the painters are here painting and refreshing my walls.
Each time I made a decision to take care of something in my house, I felt light and airy. It was the feeling of chaos leaving me and calmness settling in. A friend told me, “You sound like you are embracing life.” And to me, that sounds like a good thing.
This article originally appeared in Links magazine and appears here in revised form, with permission.