Many of us – myself included – worry. Still, among the various teachings from the Book of Ben Sira that are cited in today’s daf (Yevamot 63b) is one that directly challenges the worrier: אל תצר צרת מחר – ‘do not be agitated by the worries of tomorrow’, כי לא תדע ילד יום – ‘for you do not know what today will bring’, שמא מחר בא ואיננו – ‘perhaps tomorrow will come and you won’t be there’, נמצא מצטער על העולם שאין שלו – ‘which would mean that you’d been agitating yourself about the world that is not his’.
What this teaching, which is understood to be an expansion upon Mishlei 27:1, seems to be saying is that we should not worry about tomorrow because we may not be part of tomorrow (nb. of course, for a worrier, one’s imminent departure from this world is the source of their greatest worry!)
But why shouldn’t we worry? To answer, I would like to explain three lessons about worry – which I have labelled as ‘constructive’, ‘distracting’ and ‘disproportionate’ worry – that I believe can be drawn from this teaching and which are further expressed in the fascinating collection of Jewish teachings on the theme of ‘Worry’ in Ch. 9 of Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book ‘Gateway to Happiness’,
Firstly, constructive worry should be the driving force for action or change – which means that if our worry is unable to be harnessed to action or change, it is not constructive.
Secondly, distracting worry diminishes our presence in the present as it prompts us to think about times beyond the moment that we are in. What this means is that we lose out on the time and moments that we have because we have chosen to focus on unlikely events that just might come to pass.
And finally, most worries are disproportionate to what actually does occur, which means that worry pulls the worrier into a fictional world filled with fear that often bears little resemblance to the world around us. Given this, worry does little to help us because our worries are rarely reflective of what truly might – and what often does – occur.
Of course, what the teaching from Ben Sira is not saying is that we should be reckless. However, what it does come to tell us is that precisely because life is so precious, we should not overshadow our life with fears for a future that we can’t change because, through doing so, we then lose the precious time that we are each given to make a difference to our lives and to the lives of others.