Relating Moses to Marie Kondo’s Approach to Housework and Taking Care of Our Things

Parashat Yitro and Habits

The Torah portion, Yitro, is among my favorite in the Torah. This is the part of the Torah where we receive the Ten Commandments. But, the reason that I like it so much is because of how the Torah portion starts. Moses is listening to the grievances of the Israelites, sitting as a judge from the morning until the evening. His father-in-law, Yitro (Jethro), asks him, “what is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why are you sitting alone?” Moses responds that the people are coming to him to help them settle their disputes, so that they will know what to do in order to follow God’s laws. In what I imagine as a combination of humor and exhortation, Yitro replies,

לֹא-טוֹב, הַדָּבָר, אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה, עֹשֶׂה.

“This thing that you are doing, it is not good!”

Yitro continues that Moses will wear himself out, that the burden of being the sole judge for the people is to too great to bear without support. As the narrative unfolds, Yitro then offers a solution for how to create a system to address everyone’s needs.

I am currently reading a book, Atomic Habits by James Clear, that also talks about how to create routines to accomplish all that we need and want to in our lives. Rather than classifying behaviors as good or bad, Clear describes habits as effective or ineffective. His personal story is pretty amazing, starting with recovering from a potentially devastating baseball accident in high school. He began developing effective habits in college and has continued to build on them ever since.

Among the exercises he describes in the book are to create a habits scorecard. To do this, make a list of the things that you do every day and be specific. Beside each activity, put a plus sign if it is a good habit – something effective, such as brushing your teeth; put a minus sign if it is a bad habit – something ineffective, like checking your phone; and put an equal sign next to it if it is neutral. This process will give you a chance to raise your awareness of what you are doing, the first step toward change. Then, for each habit, we can ask ourselves if the behavior is helping us to become the type of people we wish to be. In Moses’ cases, he was so busy dealing with the work at hand, that he was not thinking about other ways to approach the task.

Creating a list of habits that we would like to incorporate in our morning routines and then ranking them, so that we know which one to add first, is the next step. For example, do you want to start meditating or exercising? Do you want to make your bed every day or remember to floss your teeth?

A second tool that Clear details is called habit stacking, which allows us to incorporate the new behavior into something that we are already doing. So, if you want to start meditating every morning and you are already having a cup of coffee every day, you could choose to meditate after you pour your coffee, creating a cue for the new habit. You can frame your habit stack by saying, “After I (current habit), I will (new habit).” The key to habit stacking is to tie the new behavior to something you are already doing, inserting new behaviors into your current routine. Moses needed to insert asking for help and delegating into his habits. We may have some of those needs, too, as well as others.

Speaking of routines, I’ve also recently discovered the hot new Netflix show, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.” Kondo is a Japanese author who rose to fame with her 2014 book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. At the heart of her system is asking whether or not an item you have “sparks joy.” Does it give you happiness? She also uses decluttering as a gratitude practice and works with her clients to express appreciation for the things that they are letting go of.

In each of these examples, Moses needing to be aware that working alone as the sole judge for 600,000 souls was unsustainable, James Clear’s methods for developing new habits, or Marie Kondo’s approach to housework and taking care of our things, the core is to be mindful and to do things that serve us. May we all be blessed with the peace and joy that can be found when things are running smoothly and we find ourselves in the “zone,” so that we can answer for ourselves, “that thing you are doing, it is good!”

טוֹב, הַדָּבָר, אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה, עֹשֶׂה.

Cantor Jeri Robins

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