• Simone Penn

Cleaning like the Kohen Gadol.

I’ve been wanting to write something for a while now, about how much I love doing my own housework. I’ve been through phases of employing domestic help and phases of not. Since lockdown I have been alone in my home and I’ve never felt better about it.

I wanted to write something about how it fills me. Something about the joy within the task. Something that won’t offend the feminists. But I couldn’t grasp it. Each time I thought I had found the words they would slip away.

My best friend and I discuss this constantly: how we feel fulfilled creating and maintaining our homes and how we feel this is the greatest work in life. The work that goes unseen.

I love being in control of my own home and feeling totally empowered in the space. Everything that needs to get done can and will be done by me. And it will be done well.

But still, I would find myself downplaying it all in jest from time to time. If I missed a phone call or WhatsApp I would always quip: ‘sorry I was cleaning my house like a peasant’. A sort of half truth: yes I’m cleaning on my own but of course it’s only because of lockdown. I definitely hate it. Oh yes. I hate cleaning.

Yet each day, the more I cleaned, the more I sorted, organized, labelled, edited and so on; the more fulfilled I would continue to feel. Every day, all day, I’m actively creating a home. That whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-it’s-parts magical place which isn’t a place at all but a feeling. Me. I’m doing it. Watch me go!

So, this morning, while I was sweeping my rug within an inch of it’s life, and thinking of a self deprecating comment to send to someone explaining why sweeping made me so outrageously late, I was struck by a paradaigm shifting thought:

“I am not cleaning like a peasant, I am cleaning like the Kohen Gadol! This is the holiest work!”

About two years ago I was at my weekly shiur with a Rebbetzin and Homemaker par excellence and we all got to chatting about the absolutely immeasurable value of the work of a woman. Her capacity to give endlessly. Her maternity. The home she creates.

The Rebbetzin then told us this earth shattering thought from Rabbi David Orlofsky which, for some reason, I had forgotten until now:

The Kohen Gadol, the high priest of the Temple, the holiest human of the time, would perform (so-called) “menial” tasks within the Beis Hamikdash. This man among (and above) men, who held the highest and most revered position in the clergy, was even tasked in preparing the sacrificial offering in sole pursuit of servicing the physical and spiritual requirements of the Beis Hamikdash and, in turn, Klal Yisroel.

Sometimes I have a weird feeling of cognitive dissonance when I’m cleaning/laundering/dishwashering/

bed-making/cooking/sweeping/wiping/“doing-it-all-ing”.. like maybe it’s wrong, beneath me perhaps? While I, literally, whistle a merry tune, I stave off thoughts about self esteem and other modern-day nonsense.

But not today.

Today I thought of the Kohen Gadol, and how my home is my own personal Beis Hamikdash; these children - future royalty of HBH’s army. And the dissonance evaporated.

That fulfillment that seeps through me as I work my way through the daily tasks of this home: toilets, floors, beds, dishes, and everything in between; was concretised. I am the embodiment of chessed. Every step I take in pursuit of the creation of a Jewish home is holy. My work is holy.

Building this Jewish home encapsulates every dream I ever dreamed. These holy souls entrusted to me mirror all of my challenges and all of my aspirations. There is nowhere for me but here.

I say this not out of ignorance. I have attended university. I have (almost) written a masters dissertation. I have travelled to many of the world’s countries. I have seen some thangs...

But nothing has ever made me feel like I’m doing more, like I’m giving more, like I’m becoming more, than creating a home.

If I have failed to make my point let me quote C.S. Lewis:

‘Homemaking is surely, in reality, the most important work in the world.

What do ships, railways, mines, cars, government, etc. exist for except that people may be fed, warmed, and safe in their own homes?

The homemaker’s job is one for which all others exist.’

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