July 15, 2024
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July 15, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Cleaning ladies—don’t even get me started! Once, or maybe twice a week, she is welcomed into my house to decide where everything should go and how things should be arranged. Invariably, when I come home after she’s cleaned, while the house looks pretty clean, it’s usually because she decided to discard half of our stuff.

Later that night, I’m sure to find some of my son’s clothing in my drawer (sometimes my daughter’s stuff, too), discover that our dresser has been completely rearranged, and heaven knows where my clothes are. Magazines I’m in the middle of are discarded, and things left out disappear forever. Our cleaning lady must have heard me complaining about her last week, because when I went to turn on the shower it was facing the wrong way, and shpritzed me right in the face.

When I was the guidance counselor in a yeshiva for a number of years, on my desk I had what looked like a spilled bottle of red nail polish. The applier was placed strategically atop the fake spill, and it looked real. It was a great conversation starter, which is important for a therapist to have: “Umm, your nail polish (?) spilled…”

Then, one day, at the beginning of a new academic year, I came into my office one morning to find the bottle closed and the fake spill gone. I realized that the yeshiva had hired a new janitor who apparently “cleaned up” the mess. Someone should’ve told him that not all messes are meant to be cleaned up!

So why do we have a cleaning lady, you ask? That’s a silly question. This is America; it’s a constitutional obligation. The Bill of Rights dictates that the military cannot sleep in your home, and you have freedom of speech and religion, but it’s contingent on you having a cleaning lady who rearranges your home consistently.

Each week before she comes, I try to hide everything I want to keep so that it doesn’t get “cleaned up.” I have even had nightmares about my cleaning lady chasing me with a vacuum cleaner and Windex, yelling at me for leaving my pen on the dresser. When I went to call a therapist to ask for help, he told me he couldn’t schedule an appointment because his cleaning lady threw his appointment book in the garbage.

OK, so I’m exaggerating a little. But there was one time when I really couldn’t fault the cleaning lady for throwing something out. Each night of Chanukah, when I would clean out the used cups of oil and remove the wicks from the night before, I would place the wicks onto a piece of tin foil, so I could burn them as halacha dictates. (I usually burn them with my chametz, and lulav, on Erev Pesach.)

This year, the day after Chanukah ended, I came home to find the table and menorah cleaned off, and all the wicks gone. I sadly realized that the cleaning lady had thrown them away. This time I had no one to blame but myself. How could I have expected her to think otherwise? Why would there be any inherent specialness in a pile of used wicks?

As Jews we understand that even after certain things become worn out, they maintain holiness, and must be disposed of properly. Chazal teach us that because the light of the menorah is symbolic of the eternal light of Torah, the wicks used to light those candles cannot merely be discarded.

It is intriguing that our enemies often have a better understanding of us than we do. The Vilna Gaon explains that Haman wanted not only to destroy us as a people, but also to destroy our dead bodies, similar to the Nazi crematoriums. Haman recognized that even the physical shell of a Jew is “contaminated with Jewishness.”

His decree should help us realize that every Jew is special and invaluable, just because he/she is a Jew, and there always remains a spark within. A non-Jew does not have a connection to such an idea. If menorah wicks retain holiness, how much more so the physical body of a Jew! On Purim we celebrate the greatness that resides in every one of us. On Purim we love each other simply because we are part of the same family!

By the way, if you don’t get shalach manot from us, it’s definitely because the cleaning lady took apart the baskets we made and put everything away. We’ll be sure to have you in mind as we eat it.


Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is a popular speaker and author. He is a rebbe in Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck and an experienced therapist who has recently returned to seeing clients in private practice as part of the Rockland CBT group. To schedule an appointment with Rabbi Staum, call (914) 295-0115.

Looking for an inspirational and motivational speaker or scholar-in-residence? Contact Rabbi Staum for a unique speaking experience by emailing [email protected]. Archives of his writings can be found at www.stamtorah.info.

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