This year for the high holidays I wanted to read the Sefer ha-Aggadah. I know this sounds excessive to those who know what the Book of Legends (its name in English) is. I had a rabbi tell me once, “People don’t really read the Book of Legends, they go to it like an Encyclopedia to find out about a certain subject.” This may be true, but this is my second reading of the Sefer ha-Aggadah. I am embarrassed to admit, however, that though I have read to page 340 or so, I am not even half my way through the 800+ page tomb. More, reading it takes time away from other things I could be reading. Why is this so important?
Well, as a writer, reading is more than recreation. Firstly–though in this instance there is nothing wrong with reading the Sefer ha-Aggadah–any writer worth his or her salt is a reader. If somebody doesn’t like reading, they shouldn’t write. So the books we read are our sustenance, they are food and inspiration at the same time. Second–and this is the crucial point–for some projects a writer has to do research. And the book I was in the middle of researching when I took time off for the High Holidays–like Christmas in terms of its importance, unlike it in its significance as a solemn holiday in which do penance for past wrongs and present forgiveness–is now delayed further.
That said, if by Sukkoth’s end I am not finished with read the Sefer ha-Aggadah, I shall read from it on the weekends only. I have been reading twenty or even thirty page blocks–but no more. I will need to get back to my “secular” work.
God gave human beings the Sabbath to rest, but on the other days we still have to do our non-religious duties. Similarly, though I took time off for the holidays, I must return to my labors when they are all over.