My Somewhat Messy Real Life
Closing ThoughtsReflections

My Somewhat Messy Real Life

Rabbi Ruth reflects on cleaning, messes, perfection, and what makes a house a home.

Rabbi Ruth
Rabbi Ruth

Once a week, my housekeeping dreams and my housekeeping reality come together.

In my mind’s eye, I live in a home and garden house. There are no piles of clutter. The laundry is folded and the mirrors sparkle.

In reality, there are piles, many. Most of the laundry is done most of the time, but rarely folded. There are quite a number of things that are not exactly in the right place.

Once a week, I am fortunate to have the help of a capable cleaner to bridge the gap. Raquel has some wicked superpowers such as finding every crumb that hides on the countertop and clearing away the signs of traffic on the floors. When she is done, even the piles are straighter.

We all have these glimpses of perfection. There are those that may be considered flukes, acts of God or random, depending on how you see them, like hitting a string of green lights on Roswell Road. But there is another type entirely, the type that comes as the result of hard work, planning, and making something a priority. It can take the form of a business deal that comes together with relative ease or an art project that turned out exactly as you imagined. None of them are continuous or sustainable. Nor could they happen without investment of time and effort.

In the case of my idealized house, that is ongoing work to which I am not willing to commit. There are those for whom housework is a priority. But I long ago made my peace with the imperfections of my housekeeping style. I have other priorities for how I spend my time. Much as I love the better version of my reality, being part of the world gets in the way of maintaining perfection.

Judaism teaches us to appreciate perfection, but also to accept that reality is less than perfect.

Like Raquel, Shabbat comes weekly and gives me a glimpse of the perfect. It is a peaceful time, without rushing and worrying. It is, according to tradition, a taste of the world to come. But when the sun sets on Saturday night, Shabbat is over. In the here and now, we cannot live in a state of perfection; we must return to the normal reality where things must get done, and in the doing, imperfection is inevitable because resources are finite and not everything can be done.

Not even Adam and Eve, beings who were directly created in the Divine image, could live in a continuous state of perfection. Because living in the Garden of Eden meant no free will, no choices. And they chose choices.

Ultimately, we all have to make tradeoffs.

We do not live in a world of sustained perfection. There is traffic and disease with which to contend. There are setbacks to overcome. Resources are finite. But if we are lucky, we get to set our priorities and make choices about how we want to spend our time, and what kind of perfection we might glimpse periodically.

I remember the day I made my peace with my housekeeping style. My friend Dafi had just given birth to her second son and I was meeting him for the first time. When the baby went down for a nap, Dafi showed me the baby book she had so carefully put together. Her mother, Miri, hovered over us and suddenly she sighed. “It is amazing,” she said, looking around the kitchen with the piles of dishes and unsorted laundry, “with all this balagan (chaos) she makes time to make a book.”

I remember feeling tense, feeling the censure not only of my friend but also of me. I had spent much time in Miri’s home as a child. Everything was always put away. There were hot meals each night. It was a far cry from the disarray of her daughter’s home.

Sighing again she concluded, “If only I had had the ability to let my house be chaotic, think of how much more I might have enjoyed my life.”

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