We all have too much stuff. Whether you blame it on consumerism or a hunter-gatherer instinct, acquisition of property can be an affliction! The necessary corrective is a process of distilling what we need from what we have acquired. One way to understand the importance of this endeavor is to notice the ways we prepare for travel.
Shifting from spring-cleaning to summer travel, we have an opportunity for understanding life’s journey through our relationship with our possessions. We can use process as principle when packing for a vacation. Two elements might be considered; selecting what we need and packing it with due consideration.
The late comedian George Carlin used to rant about what it means to pack for a trip. We select the items that we most need, culling through the many cosmetics, toiletries and clothes in our homes. Carlin then challenged us to imagine that while on vacation we would take a separate overnight journey for which we are allowed to pack only one small bag. In that moment, we must further select items from among what we need to what we believe to be essential.
What values are represented in the way you pack for a trip? Do you value comfort or expedience? Do you worry more about how you look or how you feel? What risks will you take leaving behind a medication or a change of clothes? Notice how a surfeit of choices demonstrates that you own more than you really need. If you consider sorting as a ritual reflecting your values, the mundane task of packing for a trip can be transformed into something meaningful.
Planning a vacation means thinking not only about what you will pack but how it will be packed. I have a ritualized approach to packing. The chosen socks, underwear and small items are tucked into the bottom layer. I roll the t-shirts and jeans tightly and form a second layer. Shoes are placed in felt bags and arranged in the remaining spaces. On top I lay flat the shirts, sweaters and pants, individually packed in plastic. The assemblage reflects a value system. The more precious clothing items are on top.
Torah offers its own lesson on packing. In parshat Naso, in the book of Numbers, dozens of verses are devoted to the methodology by which the Levites will pack and move the objects that fill and form the tent of meeting. Each action to disassemble the contents of the mishkan is thoughtfully detailed and assigned.
Whether the job was wrapping golden candelabras or carrying curtain rods, transporting possessions was a sacred a ritual. Each item toted was necessary to the tent of meeting and each necessary item was treated with care.
The tasks of packing the mishkan were highly particularized. Some items are wrapped in crimson cloth while others are encased in dolphin skins. If your possessions are worth owning they are also worth your careful attention.
All of the items of the mishkan were essential. By contrast, you still have too much stuff clogging your life’s luggage! It is likely you have more than you need. As you pack for vacation perhaps you will also bag some items to donate. Someone else might be a more appropriate owner for those objects. These choices bring holy awareness of our connection to neighbors and communities even as we think about our own possessions.
Packing is not merely placing items in a bag but is a part of planning for the entire journey. Similarly, choosing the things we need and repurposing others is not merely spring cleaning. We can add ease to our lives and plan with holy intention if we gain an understanding of which possessions are essential. For the journey of life, just try to pack a little lighter!
R’ Evan J. Krame