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Taste of Torah

04/09/2021 01:13:40 PM


A D'var Torah from the Institute of Southern Jewish Life

The alarm starts blaring at 7:00 am. You blindly flail your arm in the general direction of the alarm until you hit a button that makes the noise stop. You get out of bed and take a shower, choosing a bottle of shampoo off of a shelf with several half-empty bottles. After drying off, you go to your closet, pushing aside ill-fitting clothes to find that one shirt that fits nicely. As you drive to work, every bump sends items flying all across your back seat. Finally, you arrive at work, sit down at your desk, pushing aside stacks of old papers so you can put your coffee down and get to work.

Very few people would describe this scenario as a peaceful one. Clutter leads to stress; the more junk we have, the less happy we tend to be. In fact, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says,“Materialism and individualism have combined to create a world of false values. In communities of faith, I find the real thing.”i Sometimes, our clutter can get so overwhelming that we enlist the help of others to deal with it. This is premise of the Netflix show, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo. In this series, Marie Kondo, an award-winning author and inventor of the KonMari method of tidying up, visits the cluttered home of a family. After an initial consultation of the home, she guides the families along a “tidying journey,which forces them to confront their clutter and evaluate which items in their possession “spark joy;Those items that do not inspire this reaction are left behind. She shares methods of organization, including clothes-folding techniques, storage solutions, and other miscellaneous tidying tips.

In this week’s parashah of Shmini, Aaron and his sons offer a burnt sacrifice to God--an ox and a ram. This is one of many sacrifices that take place in the Torah, but it is unique in the way that it is received by the people. The sacrifice is described as follows: “Fire came forth from before Adonai and consumed the burnt offering and the fat parts on the altar. And all the people saw, and shouted, and fell on their faces” (Leviticus 9:24). As with every passage in the Torah, many translators and commentators have offered their own interpretation of the original Hebrew and inferred the wider context behind the people’s reaction. In the Oxford Jewish Study Bible, this gesture is referred to as a "mark of obeisance,"while the Rambam in Sefer Yesodei HaTorah identifies this as an expression reflecting “God’s exaltedness and His fear.iiiii Looking at this particular passage, we have to ask ourselves: What does it mean for us when we read that “the people fell on their faces?”

Is it because the people are overjoyed by the sacrifice? Are the people afraid to be in the presence of God? Or, are the people simply shielding their faces from the intense heat of the fire before them?

On Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, we may not see people falling on their faces, but that does not mean that people are not having intense reactions to letting things go. In nearly every episode, there comes a point where someone is holding onto a sentimental item--an old mailbox, a deceased loved one’s clothing, or some other item from their past. But, a decision needs to be made: keep it or get rid of it.

More often than not, the person chooses to let this object go. From that point on, a change is made: drawers are emptied, donation bags are filled, and sweaters are folded with newfound appreciation and reverence. Due to the theatrical nature of the show, this transition is often accompanied by thematic music and tears.

But why are these people crying? Are they sad to be getting rid of the item? Are they relieved by letting go a part of their past? Or, are they simply having an allergic reaction to all of the dust in their overly-cluttered garage?

Just like how we cannot truly fathom what the Israelites are thinking as they experience the burning sacrifice, we cannot know what is going through the mind of that person who is letting go of an item that once held so much significance to them; so much so that they kept it for many years before letting it go in front of Mrs. Kondo, a film crew, and millions of viewers all across the globe. Unlike those Israelites witnessing the burning sacrifice, the stars of the show are not commanded by a divine force, but a force within themselves--a desire to be better, happier, and less burdened.

This spring, while we are sorting through ill-fitting clothes, dusty knick-knacks, and other things that clutter our spaces, let us remember the Israelites falling to their faces in the presence of the burnt sacrifice. Let that emotion that fills us, motivate us. When we let go of things that hold us back, and give things we no longer need to the less fortunate, we not only do a service to ourselves, but to God as well.

Shabbat Shalom.

iSacks, Rabbi Jonathan. (2018, November 12). Beneath glossy surface lies the real thing. From

iiFishbane, Michael. (Ed.). (2004).The Jewish Study Bible. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.226.

iiiSefer Yesodei HaTorah 58:1



Sun, September 26 2021 20 Tishrei 5782