We are all leading busy lives. Between work, school, carpool, learning, business, hobbies, and other activities, we all have our plates full and always have so much going on. We rush here and there and barely give ourselves a moment to breathe or think.
How does it feel to live such a rushed life? Is this how Hashem wants us to feel?
At first glance, it may seem as if it’s a good thing that we’re always rushing around. The more we rush around, the more we have the sense that we are getting a lot done and maximizing every moment.
But the truth is that this is not the case. The more we rush from one thing to another, the more frazzled we become, and the more we feel pulled in a hundred different directions. When we are pulled in a hundred directions, it’s hard to do anything right or to focus fully on what we’re doing.
It’s hard to focus fully on your children when you’re also thinking at the same time about what to cook tomorrow for dinner. It’s hard to savor every word of a bracha when you’re already thinking about where you need to go next. It’s hard to focus on declaring Hashem as the Creator of the world during kiddush on Shabbos if you are simultaneously thinking about what you ate for lunch and if that was the right decision.
The state of mind we have just described is known as “pizur hanefesh” (literally – “scattering of the soul”). It describes a state in which our thoughts are scattered all over the place, jumping all around from one thing to the next. The opposite state of mind is called “menuchas hanefesh” (literally, “resting of the soul”).
Menuchas Hanefesh: An Essential Middah
What does it mean to have menuchas hanefesh? One might think that it means to be resting calmly and relaxed, perhaps barely moving, thinking about nothing at all. But this is not what the term really means.
As the Sifsei Chaim1 explains, having menuchas hanefesh means being fully focused on the present – not thinking about what happened in the past, or planning what to do in the future. It means that at every moment you are focused entirely on what you’re doing now – not looking forward and not looking back. Focusing fully on the bracha we are saying and not thinking about where we have to go in 10 minutes. Listening fully to our friends and not checking our emails at the same time.
Having Menuchas HaNefesh means that our minds are planted fully in one place, and all our energies and attention are focused only on what we are doing right now.
Yes, it’s important to pause everyone once a while and plan for the future, or to think about what happened yesterday to figure out if anything needs to be fixed. But if we let our minds roam constantly between thinking about the past, present, and future all at once, we will have no mental space to be focused fully on the present. We wont be able to focus on our brachos, concentrate on our tefillos, or give proper attention to the people around us.
For this reason, the Sifsei Chaim writes that having Menuchas Hanefeh is not just an “optional” personality trait that some people are born with, and some people are not. Rather, it is a middah that we are each required to develop if we want to become sincere servants of Hashem to the maximum of our ability.
Applicable in All Areas
When it comes to learning Torah, the ability to achieve and maintain a state of menuchas hanefesh is essential for being able to concentrate properly and understand one’s learning. As the Vilna Gaon writes: When a person is learning Torah, he should imagine as if he alone is the only person in the world, this 1 hour is his only hour to live, and this 1 page of gemara is the only page he needs to learn. If a person focuses totally on the present like this, he will be successful in his learning.2
The power of Menuchas Hanefesh doesn’t just apply to learning, but applies to all our mitzvos and activities as well. If we cook for Shabbos with Menuchas HaNefesh, we can have the mental space and energy to do it with joy. If we listen to our friends with Menuchas HaNefesh, it will be a great chessed and help them feel appreciated and respected. If we say our brachos with Menuchas HaNefesh, we can savor every word and have the patience to enunciate every word clearly.
The more we practice acting with Menuchas HaNefesh, the easier it will become, and the more we will strengthen this middah “muscle.” This week, let’s practice acting with Menuchas HaNefesh and focusing on the present so that we can serve Hashem to the maximum of our abilities.
Sources:  Sifsei Chaim, Middos V’Avodas Hashem Vol. II. pg. 15;  Sifsei Chaim, ibid. pg. 17;
Once a day, before doing an activity, pause and think: “I am going to do this activity with Menuchas Hanefesh.” Then do the activity with your full attention, being fully present.
- Say a bracha while focusing completely on the words and not thinking about anything else
- Learn for 5 minutes while focusing completely on what you’re learning
- Listen fully while someone is talking to you
- On which day of Creation did Hashem create “menucha” (rest)? (See Bereishis 2:2 with Rashi or Shemos 20:10)
- Which person in Sefer Bereishis has a name that is similar to the root of the word “Menuchas HaNefesh”?
- About whom is it said: “He wanted to rest in peace”? (See Rashi on Bereishis 37:2)
- What did Hashem say in response to this person’s desire to be able to rest? (See Rashi above)
- What happened right after this person desired to find rest? (See Rashi above)
- Which place does “Menucha” refer to in Devarim 12:9 (See Rashi)?
Questions to Ponder
- We speak about Shabbos as a “Day of Rest.” But in what way is Shabbos a day of rest? We still have to do many mitzvos, go to shul, daven, keep track of the time, etc. How is this considered a “Day of Rest”?
- Chazal say that when Shabbos comes, we are supposed to feel “k’ilu kol milachticha asuyah” – as if all your work is done, and now you can rest. How can that be? We still have so much work to do! Are we lying to ourselves when we try to pretend that “all our work is done”?
- Rashi says that the entire world was missing “Menucha” until Shabbos came. What does it mean that the world was lacking Menuchah? Isn’t menucha itself a “lack” – a lack of work? How can you be lacking a lack?
- How are other middos related to Menuchas HaNefesh? Which middos can help you have more Menuchas HaNefesh, and which middos might cause a person to have less Menuchas HaNefesh?