It was late at night, the kids were finally asleep, and my wife and I were both exhausted from the days’ work and putting our two wonderful kids to bed. The kitchen countertops were full of dishes piled up from tonight’s dinner, along with the remnants from yesterday’s.
Allie has eczema on her hands, so doing the dishes – or bath time, for that matter – will certainly irritate her skin, yet in her infinite kindness, she asked me, “Do you want me to do the dishes tonight? I know you still have work to do.”
I looked at her, glared back at the stack that lingered, and then thought of the work that was still undone. I took a deep breath and said, “Doing the dishes is one of the highlights of my day.”
She laughed; we both laughed, and then we embraced.
During the pandemic, dishes have become holy to me. I think about the past, when I scoffed at doing the dishes and made every excuse to focus on something else, anything but the dishes.
So what changed? Have the Sacred Housekeeping lessons of Beit T’Shuvah finally transformed me?
In this week’s double Torah portion, Acharei Mot/Kedushim, we learn about the Holiness code dictated in chapter 19 of the book of Leviticus.
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You all, be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy (kadosh) (Leviticus 19:1-2).
ALL of you, BE HOLY! Because your God is holy! What a concept?! Probably one of my top ten favorite bible verses. (To see a full list, come check out my Torah study on Mondays at noon.)
The Holiness code articulates a series of sacred actions, including a reframing of the Ten Commandments and other essential commandments such as: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (19:18), “Don’t place a stumbling block before the blind” (19:14), “Do not render unfair decisions: do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich; judge your kinsman fairly” (19:15).
But what does it actually mean to be holy, kadosh?
My dishes have become a nightly ritual. I put in my headphones, listen to a podcast and get down and dirty with my sponge and soap. It’s designated me time. I pay special attention to how the water feels on my hands and how the plates can so easily slide right through my fingertips if I’m not careful. Every once in a while, bubbles will float up in the air after I just squeezed the plastic bottle of soap. And I stop to take notice. Dishes are a sacred time for wonder.
Kadosh not only means “sacred,” it also signifies a state of being that is separate and distinct. Rabbi Mark adds a third component: “to connect.” In sum, I’ve got to separate from that which came before in order to connect to the now and make it sacred.
The Torah is urging us to be holy and to differentiate between sacred and mundane, kadosh and chol. In fact, it is one of the tasks specifically designated to the Priests:
…for you must distinguish between the sacred and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean (Leviticus 10:10).
Chol is typically translated as “mundane, profane or secular,” but it also means “sand.” For instance, the sand of the shores is what holds the boundaries of the ocean and allows the waves to ebb and flow. Can the waters exist if there is no sand? Can kadosh exist if there is no chol?
I like to think of chol as “that which is not yet made holy.” Because everything – every moment, every action; not just dishes, but even email and zoom – has the ability to be transformed into something sacred and holy. Or to fall into the grips of desecration (chilul), when we defy God’s call, destroy something or someone who has the potential to be holy. In other words, our mission – if we are to be a holy nation – is to distinguish between that which is holy and that which is not yet made holy.
Because the commandment God gives Moses is: “Speak to the whole Israelite community,” it’s not just the priests, or the leaders, or the elders, it’s ALL of us, no matter who we are and what our past might have been. All of God’s children. All of us are holy.
What else in our lives needs to be made holy? What task or burden do you scoff at? And can it be turned into something sacred?
Upon the windowsill above my sink lies the following quote from the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh:
If while doing the dishes we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not washing the dishes to wash the dishes. What’s more we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact, we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus, we are sucked away into the future – and are incapable of living one minute of life.
If we can’t do the dishes, we can’t enjoy the tea. If we cannot elevate the things that are burdensome, then we are missing out on the miracles of life that are right at our fingertips. And we won’t appreciate the sacredness of each and every breath. Of every moment. Of every action.
“Be holy, because I am Holy,” God says.
It took a pandemic for me to learn how holy the dishes can be. It’s a lifetime of work remembering how holy each and every one of us is. And from that place of awareness and intention bring that presence into the world, one sacred moment at a time.