The summer break is approaching. Would you please share with me the Torah’s teachings on vacationing, and is there even such a thing as taking a vacation from Torah?
Thanks for this very timely and important question.
The answer is yes, we take time off from Torah, providing that such time off is for the Torah.
When a person eats, or sleeps or works, for example, he is usually not involved directly in learning. If a person does this solely to eat, sleep or work, these acts are merely physical and he therefore lives a very material life. However, if a person engages in these needs with the intention of being able to better serve G‑d, learn Torah and do His will, these otherwise physical acts are elevated to mitzvot and thereby constitute part of a spiritual life.
Therefore, taking time off from learning, when needed to rejuvenate one’s strength, and with the intention of directing that rejuvenation back into learning, is not only permitted, but the actual “time off” is considered a mitzva.
But this idea can actually be taken a step further. Since a person can’t live without sleep, for example, and he can’t learn without life, sleeping in the right measure and with the right intention is actually tantamount to learning. This idea was stated by the Sages (Menachot 99b) in the following teaching: “One who refrains from Torah maintains Torah”. Here, the Sages condoned taking time off from Torah when needed, and that such “off time” is, for all intents and purposes, considered “on time”.
Another way in which vacation time can be used for G‑d is expressed by the Rambam who wrote (Deot 4:1,2,14), “It is a way of serving G‑d to have a healthy body, since it is most difficult to develop spiritually when one is sick. Therefore, one must refrain from activities and foods which harm the body, and perform activities that strengthen the body. Exercise and a proper diet help preserve the body, while idleness and an unhealthy diet harm it.” In this way, utilizing the extra time on vacation for healthy eating and activities, in order to get into shape and restore one’s strength and vigor, would not only be permitted, but also a mitzva.
Just as our normal routines generally limit our opportunities for exercise and other healthy outlets, so too do they confine us within a certain sphere and context of activity. Vacation time affords the possibility of changing scenery, getting out to nature, learning new things about G‑d’s world and the like. This opportunity to experience, contemplate and appreciate anew the wondrous Creation offers a spiritual breath of fresh air that rejuvenates our connection and commitment to G‑d, which we can then re-infuse back into our normal routines.
A final point to consider regarding the value of a vacation from the Torah perspective is that it offers an opportunity to put into practice and actuate the teachings of the Torah in ways, places and among people that we don’t normally encounter. This deepens one’s own observance, demonstrates the practical aspects of the Torah for one’s family, and can serve as a kiddush HaShem, a sanctification of G‑d’s name, to those unfamiliar with Judaism.
So there are many ways in which a person can take a vacation for, not from, Torah. Whether one is resting to rejuvenate, refraining in order to maintain, increasing activity to gain strength, making excursions to enhance appreciation, or creating new contexts for observance, if it’s for G‑d – it’s a Torah vacation.