Pause, and Then Pack Light by Karen Webber Gilat


Finally, the longed for response from Pharaoh: Yes, ok..I will let you go…so go already! And we ran. What did we take with us out of Egypt?  Maybe a pot wrapped in bedding, a spoon, a few rings, a cutting tool.  We didn’t have much back then.

So, what if we had to leave Egypt today? Are you kidding? Rent thousands of U-Hauls? We simply couldn't do it. We Moderns have too much stuff.  We even buy space just to store the stuff we don’t use. And, you really do not know how much stuff you have until you have to MOVE it.

As I write this article, I am preparing to move, yet again.  In my many moves, there are a few boxes lugged from one garage to the next without ever being opened. Not this time.  On this move, I will take the time necessary to thoughtfully prepare and reflect. I try to live deliberately. Moving is another opportunity to reconcile my philosophy with my actions. As I declutter, I will let Jewish tradition and text guide me.

Traditional Jews are much more interested in inner life than outer life. In fact, material trappings are what get in the way of spiritual pursuits.

So how do we simplify?

First consider large pieces of furniture. While this may seem counterintuitive, my couches  are 20 years old, and were chosen by someone else. Thus, I am donating them to NAMI-National Alliance of Mental Illness.  I do this to honor my family members who struggle with mental illness.  Intent can transform a simple donation into an act of Tzedakah.  Tzedakah is both a commandment and a good deed.  It does not mean charity. Tzedakah endows things with purpose and comes from the Hebrew root Tzedek-justice.

Movers consider books to be bricks. My bookshelves no longer groan as I have donated countless volumes to the ‘Friends of the Library.' My mother adored the library and so do I. What remains in my now streamlined library are books I cherish and/or teach from.  

I hunt through my closets weeding out clothes that don’t spark joy.  This donation is marked for  The ARC of Montgomery County which serves individuals with disabilities and their families.  I hold each piece and say a quiet blessing, "Praised are You, God, who clothes the naked."

I have edited my stuff down to the meaningful. Only my most precious items remain. I can now appreciate what I have and I can cultivate an attitude of gratitude. This is a key Jewish concept, in Hebrew, Hoda-ah. We have so many gifts. When one is grateful, one knows when to stop acquiring, for there is no need for more and more and more.

Who is rich the sage asks? The one who is satisfied with their portion. 

Our stuff interferes with spiritual growth   We spend money we don’t have on shiny and new objects. Then we have to transport it, maintain, and store these. Dispense with stuff and have more coffee with friends, more time to learn to paint, and save money for a vacation. We may be preoccupied with keeping up with the Jones’s. Outer appearances often deceive, so concentrate on what is on the inside.

At no time is this clearer than at Yom Kippur when we approach God with a pure heart and tennis shoes. The white worn by the clergy echoes a cleansed  body, soul, and mind. In this case, our outer world mirrors our inner one. Yom Kippur is a little death. And consider the shroud has no pockets. Material things are useless in the next world. All we leave are our good works and a good name.

I will move in September right before the High Holidays. A fresh start celebrating the New Year in new digs. If and when you plan your move, take a cue from the ancient Israelites and pack light. 

Karen Webber Gilat is a cantor, a teaching artist, and chaplain with JSSA (Jewish Social Service Agency). She is the founder of WING&PRAYER which prepares unique learners for bar and bat mitzvah.

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