This week’s mitzvah moment is more about something each of us can do each day for ourselves than for others. Passover began last Monday night and because my dishwasher isn’t officially “kosher for Passover” I have been washing dishes by hand this week. At first, I thought it would be zen and sort of meditative to wash the dishes each day. Plus, we are only a family of four so how many dishes would we really be making? Last night, as I washed the heaping pile of dirty dishes for the second time in one day. I was realizing how grateful I really am for my dishwasher and how much I am looking forward to using it again after Passover ends Tuesday evening. What’s ironic is that in a normal week, I don’t feel that grateful for my dishwasher either, but this week without it has really reminded me how much it really does for me.
While I was having these thoughts last night, it reminded me of a wonderful old folk tale that many of you may already know. The story goes like this:
A poor man lived with his wife and six children in a very small one-room house. They were always getting in each other’s way and there was so little space they could hardly breathe!
Finally the man could stand it no more. He talked to his wife and asked her what to do. “Go see the rabbi,” she told him, and after arguing a while, he went.
The rabbi greeted him and said, “I see something is troubling you. Whatever it is, you can tell me.”
And so the poor man told the rabbi how miserable things were at home with him, his wife, and the six children all eating and living and sleeping in one room. The poor man told the rabbi, “We’re even starting to yell and fight with each other. Life couldn’t be worse.”
The rabbi thought very deeply about the poor man’s problem. Then he said, “Do exactly as I tell you and things will get better. Do you promise?” “I promise,” the poor man said.
The rabbi then asked the poor man a strange question. “Do you own any animals?”
”Yes,” he said. “I have one cow, one goat, and some chickens.”
”Good,” the rabbi said. “When you get home, take all the animals into your house to live with you.”
The poor man was astonished to hear this advice from the rabbi, but he had promised to do exactly what the rabbi said. So he went home and took all the farm animals into the tiny one-room house.
The next day the poor man ran back to see the rabbi. “What have you done to me, Rabbi?” he cried. “It’s awful. It’s gone from bad to worse – far worse. I did what you told me and the animals are all over the house! Rabbi, help me!”
The rabbi listened and said calmly, “Now go home and take the chickens back outside.”
The poor man did as the rabbi said, but hurried back again the next day. “The chickens are gone, but Rabbi, the goat!” he moaned. “The goat is smashing up all the furniture and eating everything in sight!”
The good rabbi said, “Go home and remove the goat and may God bless you.”
So the poor man went home and took the goat outside. But he ran back again to see the rabbi, crying and wailing. “What a nightmare you have brought to my house, Rabbi! With the cow it’s like living in a stable! Can human beings live with an animal like this?”
The rabbi said sweetly, “My friend, you are right. May God bless you. Go home now and take the cow out of your house.” And the poor man went quickly home and took the cow out of the house.
The next day he came running back to the rabbi again. “O Rabbi,” he said with a big smile on his face, “we have such a good life now. The animals are all out of the house. The house is so quiet and we’ve got room to spare! What a joy!”
Story version adapted by Rabbi Marc Soloway
This story reminds us, like my dishwasher story, that sometimes having a change in routine may awaken you to things you usually take for granted. This week reminded me of all the appliances that help me cook my foods, clean my dishes and wash my laundry that make my life easier and how lucky I am to have all of these in my home. Something I often take for granted. Sometimes doing with out helps us to remember how lucky we are.
Recently, I have begun working with a spiritual coach who suggested this simple gratitude exercise each day. Simply think about one thing you are grateful for right now, while you are in that place of gratitude think if there is anything you need help with. Ask for that help and then repeat what you are grateful for. Do this in the morning and evening and it will keep you in the practice of living daily with gratitude in your heart.
Wishing you a wonderful Passover or Easter or whatever holiday you may be celebrating this week.
May you sing the praises of your own dishwasher (or add your own item of gratitude) today!