Clearing the Closet with the Powers of the Soul
MyLife Essay Contest 2016
I had no idea that my vision of a nice home would start with a closet. My closet was stuffed, jammed and crammed, becoming a collection of poor choices, with unknown items, forgotten and neglected. The closet did not help with my mission in life, let alone bring joy in my service. Not wanting to have to deal with my things I ignored them. Part of my resistance was not wanting to deal with physical things that seemed unimportant, or less important than other tasks in life. Mundane things were beneath my dignity and were not worth my time. My mistake was that I was not willing to serve God in all my ways and with all my things. Yet I wanted to have a beautiful home for myself and my family to serve God in, knowing from the Rebbe’s teachings that this is a priority. Acknowledging that I did not have a clue or the tools or the power to have a beautiful and organized home without God’s help, I asked God for help and started clearing out the closets. I was so resistant to this work that I had to use all the ten powers of my soul to get the job done and maintain it. With God’s help, after clearing and organizing the closets and my home, I learned how to serve God in the process.
Introduction and the contemporary issue:
“The life changing magic of tidying up: A Japanese guide to decluttering and organizing” became a New York Times #1 best seller, (also a best seller in Japan, Germany, and the UK). The author was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2015. Three million copies of her book are claimed to have been sold, which shows that people have difficulty with this. Yet this book and all books on this topic do not bring to light the powers of the Godly soul. This limits the prospect of being successful at controlling one’s nature, since one is only using the powers of the intellect. The intellect can easily be overpowered by one’s drives, natural instincts, impulses, feelings, thoughts and desires of the lower soul as is explained in Tanya. In addition they do not teach a way to make the task of decluttering and organizing a holy way to connect to God. (See note below.)
The methodology of Chassidus:
“Bechol Drachecha Daehu” In all your ways know God. Serving God in all our activities, not just when performing a mitzvah, is a service which the Rebbe describes as “holistic living”. (1) This essay will attempt to relate how to understand the teachings of Chassidus on the ten powers-“kochos” of the soul, to be able to use these powers- “kochos” to serve God while organizing and clearing one’s physical dwelling place below, (and the forgotten items in one’s closet) so God will dwell within in us, as is written in Torah: “I will dwell among them” (“veshachanti betocham”).
When employing the Godly soul in one’s daily activities a person:
- Gains unlimited power to do the task, as the Godly soul is “a part of God above” (2)
- Connects to God, doing God’s will as is explained at length throughout Chassidus.
- Follows the Rebbe’s instructions that when making a “dwelling place” for God in this world, if one will utilize all ten powers of the soul in one’s Shlichus (Godly mission), it will bring Moshiach. (3)
The sources in Chassidus:
The Alter Rebbe explains the powers of the soul in Tanya Iggeres Hakodesh Chapter 15. Explaining the powers as they are in one’s intellectual soul, in which these powers can be used to serve God or for other purposes, and then as they are in one’s Godly soul, in which these powers are used completely and only for serving God. The Godly soul is introduced in Tanya Chapter 2, and discussed in many chapters. The powers of the soul are explained beautifully and with deep wisdom in Rabbi Simon Jacobson’s book “Spiritual Guide to Counting the Omer”, Rabbi Shneor Zalman Gopin’s book “Ladat et Hamidot”, and Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh’s books “Hanefesh” and “Anatomy of the Soul”.
Application of Chassidus to the challenge:
This essay will apply these teachings of Tanya, to how one can use the Godly soul to organize and clear unnecessary items, by applying it to clearing a closet.
One might wonder, what is the importance of clearing a closet?
Clearing the closet is an opportunity to reassess past mistakes, drives, desires and create new opportunities to serve God with one’s possessions. The closet is a starting point. It is an opening which contains and represents the choices of what a person purchases, acquires and holds on to. When discarding and organizing one’s possessions, a person needs to reevaluate their past choices and correct them in order to make new and better choices. This is done best with the ten powers of the Godly soul as taught in Chassidus.
The following quotes about the ten powers of the Godly soul, are form Tanya, (4) presented with free translation and editing. Each attribute (power) presented is followed with guidelines for application:
Malchut- Divine Kingdom in Tanya
“To accept upon oneself the yoke of God’s sovereignty and of His service, like a servant serves his master with awe and fear.”
The ten powers of the soul here are presented as they are within the attribute of Malchut- Divine Kingdom. Since each of the ten powers includes all the ten powers within it, Malchut includes all the ten powers. The power of Malchut in one’s soul is to take upon oneself to serve God in action like a servant serves a master. This is the attribute which underlies the service presented here of clearing the closet.
When taking upon oneself to serve God as one would serve a king, one’s approach to one’s closet is as to a part of the palace of the king, (as is one’s entire home). After using the powers of the soul (as is presented in this essay) the closet will be fit for a king’s palace physically and spiritually.
The first action step is to remove all the items from the closet. This will help undo the past mistakes and outdated choices. Seeing one’s accumulation of excess possessions mindlessly placed in the closet, is bound to bring a feeling of humility. This feeling of lowliness is the inner attribute of Malchut, which is the catalyst to serving God as a servant serves a master. Seeing a pile of all the unnecessary items in one’s closet reveals the distance created between oneself and God through all the items which do not bring one close to God. This creates a yearning in the Godly soul to ask God to help one come closer to serving Him by keeping only the items which help a person serve God.
Next ask God for help.
Next step needed to make order, is to make a strategic plan and use the intellectual faculties:
Chochma- Wisdom in Tanya
“The source of our emotional powers is from one’s three intellectual powers of Chochma Bina and Daat, in the Godly soul Chochma is the source of the power of one’s mind to perceive Hashem and His wisdom and His greatness and His holy Attributes with which He conducts and gives life to the higher and lower worlds.”
Bina- Understanding in Tanya
“Mediating on this awareness in length breadth and depth of one’s mind… to give birth to love and fear and other attributes of the Godly soul which are born after meditating on God’s greatness.”
Daat- Knowledge in Tanya
“Connecting one’s soul to these ideas as the soul is connected and embedded in this awareness of Gods greatness”…
Chochma Bina and Daat Applied
Create a vision for the space, by asking yourself: “What do I want from this space?” before deciding what to put back in this particular closet.
The power of the intellect of the Godly soul to meditate on the concepts that God creates our physical space and all that we have in it to serve Him. The more one meditates deeply on this and relates to the concepts the better results one will get in terms of the Godly souls mission to “know God in all your ways”, and make the closet a dwelling place for God. As the Alter Rebbe explains a small child has smaller concepts of what he wants and needs because of his smaller intellectual capacity. (5)
One can think “How can this space be used for service of God?” “How do I envision the items here helping me serve God?” “What do I need from this space in order to serve God?” (Contrary to thinking: ”How can I serve the space and the items in this space, and “What do I think the things need from me?”) By this one will use the Godly soul powers to utilize this space most efficiently for the ultimate purpose.
(For example, decide what type of items are need to be in this space to get ready quickly and easily to serve God)
Next, one uses the emotional powers of the soul: Chesed- Loving-Kindness, Gevurah- Might and Tiferet- Beauty, Netzach- Victory, Hod- Acknowledgment, Yesod- Foundation.
Chessed – Loving-Kindness in Tanya
“From one’s great love of Hashem and the desire of the Godly soul to cleave to Hashem a person desires
(to do acts of) kindness Chessed in order to be cleaving to Gods’ attributes.”
Take one item at a time and ask: “Do I need this item to do goodness and kindness?”
Chessed the attribute to love and to do kindness with all the items in our possession. One can ask: “Is this item being used to serve God with love?” “Does this item help me cleave to God?” “Can this item help me to do good deeds and acts of kindness which God wants me to do?” “What do I need and get from my items to serve God with love?”
Gevurah – Might in Tanya
…“To overcome one’s (evil) inclination and to make ourselves holy in matters that are permitted. To make oneself boundaries to keep oneself away from unpermitted things.”
Remove items that are not supporting ones service of God. Donate or put items where they belong.
To discern what is not being used to serve God, one can ask: “Are these items obstacles to serving God?” “Are these permitted items that are not helping me in my service of God?” “Are these items distracting me from God?”
Items that can be used by someone else are put aside to give away. (For example clothes that are too small) This is a practical way of applying Chessed- kindness and Gevurah- restraint or strength, to do a good deed with compassion- Rachamim (the inner attribute of Tiferet), by giving the item to a person who deserves it. (When given with love, the items are presented as a gift with care)
Tiferet Beauty in Tanya
“To glorify Hashem and His Torah in all ways possible and to cleave to His praises by praising God with all the faculties of one’s soul, with one’s intellect thought and speech.”
Order, color and symmetry is beautiful, and pleasant. Place things that are similar together, and arrange by color. This also helps a person find things quickly when needed.
Ask: Does this item give glory and beauty to the service of God? The power of Tiferet can be used to arrange the items in an order that will bring glory to one’s service. For example clothes can be arranged in categories of what is for Shabbos, for a mitzvah occasion like a wedding, and for weekday. Clothes can be sorted and coordinated by color in sets of clothes that bring beauty and glory when worn. The clothing of the Kohen Gadol – High Priest were made “for honor and beauty”.
Netzach- Victory in Tanya
“To prevail triumphantly against anything stopping a person from serving and cleaving to God, and anything stopping Hashem’s glory being revealed.”
When the task gets difficult, do not give up, have confidence to move forward.
Overcoming obstacles that stop one from organizing and cleaning our closet is a way to serve God.
Obstacles can be from within ourselves, such as the desire to not have to work and spend time in this type of work. One’s evil inclination can convince a person that “this is too difficult” or “not for me” or “not for now”, “not important”, “fitting for someone not as important as me” etc. Perseverance comes from our power of Netzach, and it is the soul’s power to trust in God that “He gives you the power to succeed”. Remember that God wants a person to deal with the mundane. For example, for many months I set aside one hour a day for organizing.
Hod- Acknowledgment in Tanya
“To thank Hashem for giving life and existence to everything and to acknowledge that everything is nullified before Hashem even if one does not understand this. To thank Hashem for all the kindness He does for oneself and for creation.”
Be grateful for being given the opportunity to serve God with these items. This will relieve the anxiety of letting go of something that is not needed anymore and is given to another person who will serve God with it. (The item needs to be used to serve God, make sure this is the case)
Thank God for the kindness of giving the abundance of things that help one’s service of God.
Acknowledge that all ones possessions were created and given to reveal and serve God. Stay the course of clearing the closet and acknowledging that some things do not belong. Be willing to acknowledge mistakes. (For example, “I thought the item was just what I needed” but it really is not) Keep only things that will help one’s service of God with gratitude, sincerity and simplicity. Ask: Was it a mistake to purchase and keep this item? If yes, acknowledge that it was a mistake that can be corrected now. (Instead of rationalizing that it may be handy someday) Trust that God supplies people with all that one needs to serve Him. Unnecessary, unusable items are not helpful, use reliance on God to let go of them keeping what is needed and useful.
Yesod Foundation in Tanya
“To connect one’s soul to God the source of life, and to cleave to Him with an attachment and desire out of wondrous pleasure and delight.”
Take each item and ask: “Does this item create pleasure in my service of God?”
Prioritize the items that can be used to serve with delight and passion by choosing items that utilize one’s unique talents and mission in serving God. Sensing that an item will support a person to fulfill one’s mission creates a delight, pleasure and a bond with God when using the item in one’s service. (For example, choosing items which look suited for me and my work not because they look good on someone else.)
Put all the appropriate items back in the closet to fit the vision planned at the beginning of this process.
Ask: “How can this closet look like it is fit for a king’s palace?” “Will I be happy when the king views my closet?”
“How can the items I need be accessible (not crowded) for use quickly when needed?”
“Will my service of God be supported by having these items placed in this way?”
How these ideas can change people’s mindsets, feelings and actions:
By employing one’s Godly soul in the way presented in this essay, one will have a new attitude towards one’s possessions and new goals of how to use them to fulfill their mission in this world. Once it is clear what the space in the closet is for, the items are sorted, and placed appropriately in the closet by using one’s wisdom, one will no longer mindlessly throw things in the closet. All one’s possessions will have a known purpose and place fitting one’s ultimate purpose in life. “Going shopping” will be a new experience and orientation, in which the power of the Godly soul will help overpower the impulses to satisfy emotional needs of the lower soul. (And will save one’s husband money and trauma) New purchases will be based on the individual’s needs to fulfill their unique Godly mission in this world.
The takeaway message:
This essay helps reveal God in one’s own home. One may think it is necessary to travel long distances to find God, yet God can be and wants to be revealed in one’s home. “Knowing God in all your ways”, In my case through clearing the closet, was possible by utilizing the powers of the soul starting with the attribute of Malchut which is a surrender to serving God in action imbued with a sense of servitude.
I learned to:
- Surrender to other people’s knowledge by seeing them as God’s agents to guide me.
- Follow good suggestions even when I don’t want to. Accept new tasks and habits joyfully.
- Not give in to my evil inclination that was convincing me that “I cannot do this” or “it is beneath me”.
- Trust that God is guiding me, giving me the tools I need, and helping me get the job done.
- Get support and encouragement by studying Chassidus for a holier perspective on handling items.
- Apply the ideas of Chassidus to decide how to handle “mundane” things and tasks.
- Do mundane tasks right away, embrace them, seeing them as a challenge and opportunity to serve God.
- Enjoy giving items to people who can use and enjoy them.
- Enjoy keeping a beautiful home clean and organized, being grateful for having this opportunity. 10. Enjoy having more clarity, space, cleanliness, beauty, order, energy, confidence and creativity.
Chassidus applied in this way, elevates not only one’s soul but also all the items in one’s possession, which are “one’s portion in this world”, making oneself and one’s home a place in which God is revealed. Soon the “entire earth will be filled with the knowledge of God”, including people’s minds and closets.
Note to introduction:
In the above mentioned best seller, items are incorrectly viewed as a separate entity from God with a power of their own. For example readers are instructed to thank their possessions for servicing them, rather than to thank God for giving them their possessions! The author lives in Japan where it is common for people to attribute powers to items.
- Rebbe’s Sicha of 10 Shevat 5742 view at: http://www.chabad.org/therebbe/livingtorah/player_cdo/aid/1280183/jewish/Holistic-Living.html. See also Toras Menachem volume 27 page 51-52
- Tanya Chapter 2, Rebbe’s Igrot Kodesh volume 22 letter 8,387 Rebbe’s address to shluchim 7 Tishrei 5752,
- View online at:
- Tanya Iggeret Hakodesh pages 245- 246
- Tanya Iggert Hakodesh chapter 15