Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – Dirty Little Secrets


Operation Inspiration

A cousin sent me a funny joke. It said, “I HATE having a messy house. Not enough to actually clean it, but enough to give it a really disgusted stare from my seat on the couch.” What makes it funnier is that we can all pretty much relate. We like having a clean home, but we don’t like what we need to do to get it.

Well, this week I had a thought while doing some cleaning in an unexpected place. If you handwash your dishes, you know how hard it is to keep things clean. You understand why people use paper plates and disposable cutlery. If you are fortunate enough to have a dishwasher, though, you can use real dishes all the time and give nary a thought to it.

Of course, there is a cleaning process involved in having a dishwasher too. You see, there’s a filter inside the unit that needs to be cleaned every so often. If you are shocked by what I’m telling you, please don’t invite me for a meal. Probably at least once a month, I remove this filter, wash it with hot water and soap, and then reinstall it into the bottom of the dishwasher. The metal screen over the filter gets the treatment too.

The outside gets cleaned with a special cleaner made just for stainless-steel to make sure that our dishwasher sparkles, just like the dishes and glasses that come out of it. Imagine my surprise, then, when I glanced into my dishwasher and found an area that needed to be cleaned which wasn’t the filter. You’d imagine that with all the suds and hot, steamy water, the interior of the dishwasher would be pristine, but no! There was actually a large swath of metal area that, you should excuse me, was covered in gunk.

I took a disinfecting wipe and cleaned the area well, so it shone like a freshly-washed car. But how did it get so dirty if it’s INSIDE the dishwasher?

The secret is that this inch-wide piece of metal, running the width of our dishwasher, resides under the door when it’s shut. Therefore, though it’s on the inside, it never gets sprayed with the water or soap. Instead, it collects particles of dirt and food and grime that seep under it at various times. Our dishwasher’s dirty little secret was that area which never gets much attention until it’s so bad as to grab your attention with its noxiousness. (I hope my wife isn’t reading this…)

Why am I sharing the intimate details of my kitchen with you? Because it made me think about this problem on a more global scale. You see, I didn’t give much thought to the area under the door because it’s inside the machine and it should get clean when I run the dishwasher, shouldn’t it? But it doesn’t, because it’s hidden when the door is shut.

It made me realize that many other parts of our lives should probably get attention but don’t. I go to shul three times a day. My davening is pretty much covered, right? But do I pay attention to the quality of my davening? Do I reflect on whether I’m focused on the tefilos or that I’m standing in front of Hashem? Or do I perhaps make the mistaken assumption that if my lips are moving and my feet are together, whatever is happening is fine?

How about my parenting and relationships? I make sure my child is fed and clothed, and occasionally bathed, but am I paying attention to his or her needs in every area? Am I really listening or just assuming everything is ok? Am I giving my spouse what s/he needs, or just what I’m willing to provide?

I’m careful with my speech. I try to study the laws of Lashon Hara and don’t just gossip. But when I’m on autopilot, do I perhaps slip and not realize what I’m doing?

And those are our dirty little secrets. The things we think will take care of themselves but really need our attention too. In order to really get clean, we need to pay attention to the various nooks and crannies of our lives and make sure we’re giving them the attention they deserve. And that’s no secret.

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