December 2015, from the clergy

Dear Women of Rodef Sholom,

I recently read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Wanting to understand why this little book has attracted so much attention and why it has remained on the New York Times Bestseller list for 56 weeks, I read the book and was surprised by what I found. Instead of merely being an instruction book on organizing one’s home, it turned out to offer straightforward advice on living a more deeply spiritual life. Like everything in Jewish life, Marie Kondo’s book can be understood on many levels. On the simple level, what we call in Judaism, the pashat level, it guides us in the art of discarding unnecessary and expendable objects that clutter our closets, cupboards, and homes. But on a deeper level, the drash level, Kondo calls upon us to discern what truly matters in our lives. She advises the following technique: take all of a given category from your closet, shirts, for example, place them all in one place, pick up each one and ask, “does this spark joy for me?” If the answer is yes, great, return it to the closet (in a specific order and arrangement which she explains). But, if the item does not evoke joy in one’s heart, if it does not make you sparkle with delight, hold the object, thank it for being in your life, wish it well, and release it to the world or to someone who needs it and will enjoy it. She prescribes the same process with papers, books, household items, and kitchen supplies.

Years ago, I adopted the practice of getting rid of at least one article of clothing whenever I bought something new. But Kondo’s method pushed me even further. It’s not about gradually weeding out our closets or possessions, she believes, but rather, about ridding ourselves of that which no longer serves us, which no longer “delights” us. It is also about honoring each of our possessions, treating it well, with love, and with admiration.

What I found through reading her book is that the “magic art of tidying up” is really a spiritual primer for daily living. And that when we truly appreciate everything in our lives, it is easier to let go of it. For example- a box of my sons’ old toys has been hiding in the corner of the garage for years. Every few months, Frank asks, “can we get rid of this?” And I answer, “no, I’m not ready, the boys used to love these toys when they were little, I can’t get rid of it.” But this time, I picked up each object- a small plastic dinosaur, a red, bouncy ball, a tattered, well-read book- thanked it for bringing me and my sons so much pleasure, and let it go. I was finally able to give the old toys away. While the memories are still with me, the boxes and bags of old toys and clothes are now being recycled and given to others who can make good use of them.

Perhaps the same is true of non-physical items in our lives- our character traits and habits as well! If one of our traits no longer serves us, focus on it, thank it for being present in our lives, and give it away! It might not be as easy to “give away” stubbornness, laziness, or anger, but it is a spiritual practice made easier over time. Try it!!

~Rabbi Stacy Friedman

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