Parshat Shlach: When Worlds Collide
One of the changes that has occurred over the last year and a half is my adjustment to working from home. I’m not working at home, I’m working from home. The difference is in how we view the content of the work. When I’m working at home, I’m doing the things my home requires. In fact, the challenge has never been ‘how I would work at home’, the challenge is always ‘how can I rest at home’. Home has too much work that always needs doing, and so I plan time away from my home in order to rest. If I can’t see the chaos in my closet, I can’t clean it out and bring order to chaos. ‘Staycations’ mean I can finally attend to all the work I have to do at home, it rarely means I have nothing to do.
But, many of us have layered ‘working from home’ into our at home work. Now my home becomes the base from which I launch my professional work so it is, in fact, only coming from my home but not relating to my home at all. Both ‘home’ worlds begin to collide and I hear of family members who are doing their work on computers in their homes while wearing unicorn hats because their toddler is colouring next to them. More and more, work at home and work from home realities are blending together.
I’m not referring to the mishaps, the lawyer who appeared virtually in court as a cat, or people meeting online without any clothes below the waist who forget and suddenly stand up. These mishaps are accidents, but there are definitely times when we combine our worlds intentionally and create beautiful layered moments.
A marketing executive I know shared with me that while he was in an important Zoom meeting last week, he could hear his 6 year old daughter nearby in her Zoom classroom. He heard her say to her class: ‘Wanna see a picture of my daddy without any clothes on?’ at which point he left his meeting and ran, panicking, into his daughter’s room. She had pulled up a photo of their vacation from years ago where he is standing by a pool in a bathing suit. Now the trick was to return to his meeting and have to explain why he ran out of the meeting. Two worlds that never had to speak to each other before are now in constant conversation.
A few years ago, we were introduced to the concept of a work/life balance. Once technology could find us anywhere, and anytime, people were working nonstop and couldn’t manage to live a life outside of work. We learned how to juggle, how to try and balance things, how to remember that work should serve our lives and not the other way around. I’m not sure we ever mastered the concept before the world moved us to the present moment of worlds colliding. It begs the question of whether there really ever was a possibility of a work/life balance — perhaps the key always lay in a work/life blend.
In this week’s Torah reading, parshat Shlach, God tells Moses that he can send spies into Israel if he so chooses. It is left up to Moses. Israel has asked for it, and clearly it represents a mistrust in God, since the people need to check whether God has brought them to a good place. To Moses, leadership has always represented his work life. It’s a job he never wanted, that turned into a lifelong career. It has few perks, no promotions, and many bad days. On the other hand, Moses’ relationship with God is his personal life. The text tells us that God is his best friend, they share everything, they even chit chat together. The question of sending spies is a moment of choice for Moses. To choose not to send them is to prioritize his relationship with God, his personal life, and to choose to send them is to prioritize his relationship with the people, his work life.
Moses chooses work life over personal life and sends 12 spies into Israel. It ends badly and will trigger 40 years of staying in the desert. As Moses repeatedly tries to separate his worlds, Israel and God continue to move in and out of challenges. There is no blending of relationships and no learning of accommodations. Moses is the leader that Israel needed in order to leave Egypt and move forward because a slave needs a world of clear lines and stark definitions. But, as we read of the spies and their failed mission, we see that separating our worlds and our identities into defined compartments might be making our lives more challenging. Work life and home life can blend in ways that make us stronger and more productive. I don’t want to choose between the pieces of who I am, I want them to merge together. I welcome any work that has a toddler colouring next to me while I wear a unicorn hat.