Updated: Nov 24, 2019
This article originally appeared in the AISH UK pre-Rosh Hashana 5780 magazine. See Below. Herewith, the unedited version:
Confession time: I am not a minimalist. I am not an eco-warrior and I am not a naturalist.
Do I believe in less but better?
Do I reduce, reuse, refuse, rot and recycle?
Have I detoxed my entire cosmetic and detergent inventory to a mere collection of bicarb, Epsom salt and vinegar?
Why yes, yes I have.
And do these things define me? No, they do not.
My story, as stories tend to be, is long and complicated. But to summarise: I am the only child of three parents (I need a lot of attention!).
My parents divorced when I was one year old and my mother remarried when I was nine. Both my fathers are Jewish and my mother completed a reform conversion before I was born. Grandparents on all sides fled and survived the Holocaust; and yet, I was not born a Jew.
When I was 21 I corrected that and the rest, as they say, is history.
Recent history enough, though, that it warrants an honourable mention. Growing up the way I did included a fair amount of indulgence. I once even caught a lift home from school in a helicopter. There were two homes, two bedrooms, two birthday parties – double everything (and triple the love BH). But too much much doesn’t come for free.
Not proverbially and not financially.
I found myself with an insatiable hunger, an unquenchable thirst, a desperate longing for truth.
Ever since I can remember having thoughts I can remember seeking. Searching for truth, dissecting ideas, analysing the analyses, and agonising over conclusions. I finally found satiation in Torah.
A perfect blueprint of how and why and when and where. And I felt calm and exhilarated all at once.
I take my role as a Jew very seriously. If asked I will always say that it is a great, great privilege to be Jewish.
A huge responsibility, yes, but an even bigger privilege.
I chose these responsibilities at the age of 21 and have been indulging in the privileges ever since.
I remember once asking a Matriarch of the community why I needed a house. Why, I said: if my goal is to be close to G-D, can’t I just wander off into the wilderness somewhere, grow out my hair, and become one with nature?
She said nothing; but simply drew a Magen David (a star of david).
This symbol of our faith is made of two opposing triangles. One rooted in the earth and pointing upwards and the other – it’s opposite.
This is what being a Jew is, she told me. This paradox of constantly elevating the physical towards the heavens whilst drawing the spiritual down towards us; is the unending task of a Jew.
To this end I’ve experimented with many things inside the Hallachic paradigm of Yiddishkheid. I’ve sold basically everything I owned and moved my family of four into my mother-in-law’s (renovated) garage. I’ve detoxed my entire home of chemicals. I’ve eliminated dairy entirely from our kitchen for the sake of less.
I also moved out of that garage six months later and back into what I would refer to as a McMansion. I put on traditional perfume this morning because I like the smell. And I bought cheese blintzes for dessert last week only to find I had no way of heating them up – go figure!
I’ve tried and I’ve failed and I’ve tried again. I seek only to refine myself and walk slowly, quietly, peacefully and gracefully in the Rambam’s Shvil Hazahav. That perfect golden path of balance; where the pendulum ceases its frantic swinging and rests calmly, where it is good. The sweet spot.
So to call myself a minimalist because I try to seek out the essential physical items and then elevate them to their greatest use and service; would be trivial, insulting even.
To say that I am steadfast in my observance of ‘Bal Tashchit’ and ‘Pikuach Nefesh’ and as such do all I can to preserve the one precious planet HaShem has blessed us with, is a far cry from calling myself an eco-warrior.
And to call myself a naturalist, simply because Hakodosh Baruch Hu has commanded me to guard my soul (‘Venishmartem meod venafshoseichem) with all the resources at my disposal (and thus protect my health) would be to reduce this heavenly commandment to something trendy, inconsequential, and secular even.
So no, I’m not trying to save the planet, I’m not scared of antibiotics and I don’t hate your plastic straw..
I have a responsibility as a Jew, and I take that responsibility very seriously.