The Talmud tells us Rabbi Akiva was pretty much illiterate until the age of forty. Earning a meager living as a shepherd, he passed by a well and noticed a carved stone. He asked who carved this stone, and they told him that it was the water that constantly dripped on it. From this, he said: “if water was able to carve this stone, words of Torah could surely reshape my heart.”
I thought about Rabbi Akiva’s deduction last week, as I read about the tragic mishap involving Southwest, Flight 1380 bound for Love Field from LaGuardia Airport in New York. If metal which knows neither birth nor death is vulnerable to fatigue, how much more so is a mere mortal whose life begins at birth and ends at death, vulnerable to fatigue.
“I am sick and tired of people who say that if you debate and you disagree with this administration somehow you’re not patriotic. We should stand up and say we are Americans and we have a right to debate and disagree with any administration” said a contender for the office of President a decade and a half ago. A clinical psychologist, I’m not. I dare say however, that this aspirant for the White House was exhibiting “motile fatigue”. The frenetic pace of campaigning notwithstanding, candidates for president are plagued by disbelief (“for the life of me I can’t believe why everyone is fawning over my opponent. I’m superior in every way!”), anger (“it’s simply not fair”) and dread (“there’s no way I’m going back to Nebraska! They aren’t going to vote for me anyway”). Moshe Rabbeinu demonstrated signs of “motile fatigue” when, in exasperation he exclaimed: “How can I myself alone bear your problems, and your burden, and your strife?”
Despite his mother’s cajoling, Xavier refused to get out of bed and get ready for school. Xavier had good reason. The students made fun of him; the teachers talked behind his back. Xavier’s mother was adamant. Her son had no say in the matter. After all he was the principal! Xavier was exhibiting symptoms of “mettle fatigue”. Xavier simply lacked the mettle – the fortitude to confront his job as well as the courage – to confront the teachers and students and demand the respect that came with the office of principal. When Moshe Rabbeinu fell on his face when his leadership was being contested by Korach, he too was showing signs of “mettle fatigue.”
“Hard work never killed anybody” is a quote attributed to the renowned ventriloquist Edgar Bergan. Mr. Bergan followed up by asking: “But why take a chance?” What Mr. Bergan should have said was “Hard work never killed anyone, but in addition to physical fatigue, it can also cause ‘mental fatigue’”. There was a certain irony in the life of Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe began his career by confronting “mental fatigue”. The Torah tells us that the Israelites did not pay Moses any heed. They were victims of hard labor. They were also mentally exhausted.
Moshe ended his career confronting his own mental fatigue. His eyes had not dimmed, and his vitality had not diminished. Physically, Moshe was in excellent shape; mentally, Moshe was totally exhausted.
Motile fatigue is caused by oneself. Occurrences and situations that leave most others unfazed, cause those susceptible to become “sick and tired” purely through perception, attitude, fear or just because. Mettle fatigue is caused by others. Those who suffer because of the behavior, comportment or attitudes of others are so worn down, that they lack the mettle to confront or stand up for their rights. Mental fatigue is when hard work, drudgery or demanding schedules with little or no reward or recognition finally overwhelms the individual.
Our prayers go out to the family of Jennifer Riordan, the only casualty aboard Southwest flight 1380. Our best wishes go out to the seven injured. Our admiration goes out pilot Tammie Jo Shults and crew. Our hope is that the NTSB succeeds in its investigation of what went wrong. Whether or not it finds that metal fatigue was the cause, we now have a better understanding of other types of fatigue that affect our lives on a daily basis.