It’s time to start spring cleaning already.
Around this time of year, I start to notice the mess that has built up. The crumbs in the toaster. The oven I haven’t cleaned in such a long time. The floorboards and high surfaces- how did they get so dusty?
It’s Shabbat Parah. Purim has passed and this week’s extra reading from Numbers reminds us that the next festival to come is Pesach. Yes, it’s really only a month away, and it’s snuck up on us so quickly this year.
In our additional parashah, the priests undergo a strange cleansing ritual. They sacrifice an unblemished red cow and use its ashes like a soap, sprinkling it over themselves and their surroundings. Of course, it makes no sense to us, and even our medieval commentators admit to being a bit baffled.
But that’s the way cleansing rituals are. You can’t explain them. You just do them. The meaning is implicit. Or, rather, we feel it on an emotional level, rather than being able to rationally think it.
A couple of years ago, Marie Kondo impressed Western audiences by bringing Shinto spirituality to house clearances. Her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, encouraged people to rethink their relationship to their things. She asked people to look at the items in their houses and ask: “does this spark joy?” Her philosophy was that something should only be kept in your home if it was useful or beautiful.
At the time, the trend passed me by, and I didn’t realise how profound it was. How we organise space has a profound impact on how we see ourselves. My boyfriend jokes that he can tell the state of my mind by the state of my room.
This period, from Shabbat Parah until Pesach, is our period for clearing out clutter. It is a spiritual time for tidying up. Tradition says we should be hunting out chametz – bits of leavened bread – and getting ready to remove them from the house.
But it’s so much more than that. It’s a chance to clear our houses and our heads. It’s an opportunity to reevaluate what things we need and what we don’t.
So let’s take to it – slowly and gently, finding our own meanings in the clutter. Spring cleaning is here. Let’s do it.
This sermon is for Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagogue, Shabbat Parah, on Friday 5th March.