Doing and Being

I like schedules. I like lists. A lot. I like to fill my oversized Daytimer with schedules and lists, checking the items off as I complete them. I keep track of my phone calls, visits, classes, meetings and sermon preparation.  At the end of each day, I look with satisfaction at my to-do list to measure all that I have done. I feel gratified as each day comes to a close and I imagine accomplishing, in incremental steps, my mission – the building up and support of my OJC community in the context of the Jewish world and the world-at-large.


A life of doing is a Jewish way. Just consider what the rabbis say in Ethics of the Fathers: “The day is short, the task is great…and the Master insistent!” (Pirkei Avot 2:20)
A life of doing is my way of living.
And so it was, until it wasn’t.
These months of illness have catapulted me right out of the life of doing. My calendar is empty except for doctor appointments and treatments. My to-do list includes taking a walk and making a phone call, on a good day.
What I have learned is the benefit of a life of being.
I do not mean being sick in my bed.
I mean those days when I am well enough to go out and walk in God‘s world or re-enter my OJC world filled with gratitude.
Only in a state of being can I truly appreciate the wonders of God’s world and the preciousness of our community.
One month ago, our butterfly bush was cut down to its very roots to allow for new growth. If I were busy doing rather than being, I would have missed the first visit of a butterfly, way ahead of schedule.


My favorite tree at the end of our driveway lights up to an incandescent red at just the right moment of sunset. I would never notice if I were busy doing rather than being.
We all notice the deer in our yards, with different responses ranging from annoyance to tenderness. This spring and summer, I have gotten to know the families of deer who congregate in my yard, watching the baby fawns grow up and naming a few of them. I would never have time for deer-watching if I were busy doing rather than being.

The OJC has been a powerful partner in my treatment. When I am in the synagogue, I have no to-do list. I am simply being with people who are seeking to connect to something bigger than we are. These times lift my soul. It is such a different way to be a rabbi. It is a way of being.
Doing is most definitely a Jewish way. But being is also a Jewish way.
In a state of being, we notice enough to experience gratitude and see that our world is filled with blessings. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement… get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted.”
I do not want to be in a state of being only. I yearn for a return to my state of doing, a natural rhythm that suits me best. But I will carry this very important lesson with me into my healthy future. Some days, I will leave my Daytimer blank. I will spend the day just being, filling myself with spiritual amazement, ready to return to my to-do list and my schedules… another day.

Rabbi Paula Mack Drill


15 responses to “Doing and Being”

  1. Janet says :

    Thank you so much for this beautiful reminder. I, who am definitely a doer, have spent countless hours lamenting the fact that I have limitations. I will try to take pleasure in just being, for now. And I look forward to that day (may it be soon) when we will both be doing again. Love you!!

    • Rabbi Paula Mack Drill says :

      I look forward to that day too, Janet, and promise that we’ll remind each other to spend time “being” as well!

  2. J. Scott (Yitzchak) says :

    As in certain teachings in Judaism, Zen emphasizes Being-ness as letting go of many things including our thoughts. It is also a step toward new creative activities.

  3. Annette diskin says :

    thank you for the beautiful thoughts on allowing us to just “be”.

  4. Bill Lebeau says :

    Thank you, Paula, for thoughtful comments appropriate for all of us. Continue to heal and to teach.

    With love
    Bill Lebeau

  5. Andrea Kessler says :

    This is so very meaningful Paula. I struggle with feeling grateful for doing but yearning to carve out time for being. The need for a balance is great and when I choose a day for just being, I will think of you gratefully for this important lesson. Sending so much love…

  6. Rhonda Plawner says :

    When illness or age creeps up slowly, life has a way of compensating for the changes in our daily lives. Living life is about the acceptance of changes. Being and doing can coincide in our daily lives, which only adds to the richness of our lives. To-do lists will have to wait while you are ‘being’ and getting back to the stronger and healthier you.
    With love, Rhonda

    • Rabbi Paula Mack Drill says :

      Thank you for your wisdom, Rhonda. “Life has a way of compensating” is such an important thing to remember!

  7. Bonnie Bornstein Fertel says :

    Paula, I have learned over my, so far, 25+ years of dealing with illness is that every day that allows us to “do” and to “be” are divine. It was great seeing you last week. XO

  8. Lydia Katz says :

    Even in your state of “being” with less “doing” you teach. I will take the time to listen to my birds in the morning. I have let myself forget how much better coffee tastes on my deck. I will greet my deer visitors and enjoy the beautiful reflections on the water of my pool. Thank you once again for reminding me how beautiful God’s world is and how amazing that it is shared with all of us.
    Be well. Love you, Lydia

    • Paula Mack Drill says :

      Thank you Lydia! I often think about you praying/meditating/being grateful on your lovely deck. It’s a holy spot.

  9. Helen Barnett says :

    Sometimes it is much too hard to let yourself “be” & then you look for anything you can find to “do”. This then becomes your routine until you come to Shabbat which forces you to look inward & just “be” again. Maybe that is our reward from God as it makes the ability to “do” & to “be” so much more special. Maybe that is why the lyrics of the song,” Let It Be” are so meaningful. Thanks for all your support & insight.

  10. Linda Schept says :

    What beautiful way to look at ” an empty to do list “.

  11. Jo Rutter says :

    Thank you for the thoughtful comments and prescient reminder. When we are “being” for too long, we feel as if we were lazy. When we are “doing” for too long, we feel as if we are stressed. Somewhere between being and doing, is happy. May we all find that place. Hugs, Jo

    • Rabbi Paula Mack Drill says :

      Such a wise response. You are exactly right. May we all find that happy, balanced place!

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