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Yom Kippur and the kitchen sink.

So there's this plumbing problem. The details of the mishap don't bear repeating, though because we're off-grid where water and plumbing are concerned it's cascaded into a much bigger problem than it might otherwise have been. And because there's been heavy flooding in our region this week, the plumber can't begin fixing our problem until next Monday.

What this means in practical terms is that we're using our plumbing as little as need be, e.g. washing dishes the old-fashioned way, like in Ken Waldman's poem "Washing Dishes on my Thirty-Third Birthday" (in To Live on This Earth.) It's annoying, but we can survive a week like this. We'd do it without even grousing in some of the places where we like to travel (okay, without grousing much), and we can handle it at home.

But what this means in spiritual terms is that I've spent a lot of emotional coin on feelings of frustration and worry during the very week when I most want to break away from the detritus of mundane life. During these last few Days of Awe I want my kavvanah (intent) to be especially pure and focused. And, of course, it isn't -- at least not yet -- because I've been caught up in the drama of the kitchen sink. Of course, some would argue that there's a valuable lesson here, and an opportunity to practice reaching for holiness despite the garbage that gets in my way.

Ordinary life doesn't step aside to make room for the holidays. We need to be able to access gratitude and awe and holiness even when things aren't going our way. We don't get to say, "you know, I've got a ton of work to do this week, and there's this thing with my sink, so could we have Yom Kippur another time?" And thank God for that! If we could postpone encounters with holiness until it was "convenient," we'd never have them. Instead the holidays require us to set daily life's frustrations aside, and that's really useful.

This physical and fiscal frustration is perfect fodder for my monkey mind, which predictably wants to fixate on this and yammer about it endlessly. My challenge is to treat myself with compassion, understand the workings of my mind, and then release the negativity so I can prepare myself to pray. I suspect most of us wrangle with this; if it's not the kitchen sink, it's something that went wrong at the office, or a quarrel with a loved one, or an unanticipated bill. There's always something to be worried, angry, or anxious about. But if we can break the hold these things have on us long enough to really enter into prayer, I think the experience of prayer -- and of turning away from the frustrations for a few hours -- can do a world of good.

And I have to chuckle when I realize how this particular worldly distraction relates to the asher yatzar blessing I say in my morning davvening, which praises God for creating the human form with wisdom and for endowing us with all kinds of organs and cavities. It is known, the blessing asserts, that if one of these were to flow where it is meant to be sealed -- or to be sealed, where it is meant to flow -- we would not be able to stand before God and praise God's glory. Of course, the blessing is talking about our bodies, not our homes, but I see some resonance there. Something is blocked which ought to be open, and as a result I'm having a hard time focusing on the spiritual matters I want to pay attention to this week.

Given the metaphor the universe is handing me, I can't help seeing Yom Kippur as a kind of cosmic roto-rooter. Though my Yom Kippur prayers will do little to fix the physical blockage in our wastewater pipe (I'm counting on next week's visit from the plumber for that), I hope that they will open the places in my spirit where the sediments of anger, frustration, and guilt have settled over the last year. I don't spend much time dwelling on negative emotions, in general, but over the course of a year I always seem to internalize them a little. It's human nature, and one of the great things about Yom Kippur is the chance to release that stuff and start anew.

Jewish tradition teaches that an abundance of shefa (divine energy) enters the world on Yom Kippur; through our prayers, we take part in the work of opening the channels between God and creation, so that shefa can flow freely into the world. Maybe this nonsense with our pipes can serve to remind me of the importance of openness. And if I have to work a little harder than usual this year at letting go of mundanities, that's okay. Yom Kippur is powerful enough (especially as it's celebrated at Elat Chayyim) to push the world out of my mind for a day. Even when the world includes my kitchen sink.


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