There was an office sign that read “a clean desk is a sign of a disturbed mind.” Anyone who has ever battled with a cluttered desk could smile at that statement. Clutter is something that most people deal with at one point or another. Some people confine it to one room, while other people let it overtake every room in their house.
Clutter isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as it’s functional. If you know where everything is, and it’s not getting in your way, it’s not a major problem. If someone cleans up or straightens my desk, I can’t find anything.
The Jewish ethical value of Orderliness is not about housekeeping or paper filings, but about the order to our lives. When the Holy Scriptures teach us to have our lives in order, they are not talking about a neat desk or living room, but a neat life. It’s so very easy to let our lives be cluttered with issues that are not so important, and we get so run down with them, we fail to see the things that are most important. This is evident in the story of Miriam and Marta, in the Besorah. Two sisters host Yeshua’s visit. One of them is busy running around making sure the refreshments are done, and food is ready to be served, doing all the work, while her sister sits at the feet of Yeshua, listening to his teachings. The working sister complains to Yeshua that her sister is not helping, and she is doing all the work by herself. She may have thought she would be commended for her service and sacrifice. Yeshua surprises her by saying that her priorities were wrong and it was her sister who chose to listen to His teachings that had the priorities correct. Having order to our lives helps us to make the best choices.
The reality is, a life that is lived in faith is lived in a rhythm. The Jewish traditions and culture help us live according to that rhythm, and create the orderliness we need to have. When I first moved back to New York City, I was terrified at the thought of driving in Manhattan and on the crowded expressways. The driving appeared anything but orderly, and seemed to be extremely dangerous. As I lived there a while, and got used to city driving, I discovered there was a rhythm to the traffic, especially in Manhattan, and if you got in to that rhythm, the driving was safe and easy. Out of town passengers riding with me were sometimes terrified, but we were safe and I never had an accident because I followed the patterns. The Mitzvot are designed to teach us the patterns and rhythms of a spiritual life and the more we make them the patterns of our lives, the safer and more even-keeled our lives will become. The promise in the Torah for obeying the Mitzvot is, “That it might go well with you.”
When you think about your own life, what are the things we tend to clutter our lives with? It’s usually not about Scripture, or spirituality. It’s usually about our opinions about other people, or about politics or economics or other temporal things that take our eyes off the more sacred things we ought to be focusing on and the way we treat other people. Having an orderly life starts with re-examining our priorities and our activities.
If you want to have an orderly desk, that’s fine. If you work better with it being cluttered, that’s fine too. The main thing to focus upon is to make right spiritual choices, and live our lives without spiritual clutter, by following the commands of God, and listening to his voice and learning at his feet. It will affect not only our personal walk with God, but will touch in a positive way how we relate to other people. Most of the Torah is about how we get along with others. We are called to an orderly life. May we order it in such a way that we reflect the positive attributes of the Torah, as Yeshua said, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds, and give glory to your father in Heaven.”