Last year we started what hopefully will be a new tradition at Temple Beth Hatfiloh, a community cleaning of our sacred space right before the High Holidays. We have a regular cleaner who does surface cleaning a few times a week, and when something major needs cleaning or repair (the carpets or the roof), then we bring in a specialist. It’s those middle jobs that tend to get lost in the mix: the minor repairs such as light bulb changes and ceiling tile replacement, and the only-on-occasion cleaning jobs like washing the outside windows or wiping down the woodwork.
Last year we created a list and had a crew come out scurrying all over the building doing odd jobs. This year was the same. Not only did a lot of necessary tasks get done, but we spiffed up the building just in time for the days when the most people flow through the doors.
So while late summer is the ideal time to do a spring cleaning at TBH because of the timing of the High Holidays, it is more than just because of physical need. This is the time when we do our spiritual cleaning as well.
During these High Holidays we are called upon to do cheshbon hanefesh—an accounting of the soul—an inventory of our behaviors and habits to truly see which we need to change, how we could do better, what we need to make amends for. It is the work of teshuvah (repentance): of seeking and granting forgiveness and repairing ourselves and our relationships. It’s not easy work, but it is necessary.
It struck me that our approach to maintenance of our physical space here at TBH serves as a parallel for this internal individual work. Oftentimes we are able to do the easy surface work—the minor transgressions, the small slights—just as we regular take care of our surface cleaning. And when a major interpersonal crisis hits, we are able to give it attention, just as for our physical space we take care of major repairs or projects.
But it’s those middle jobs that we often neglect, and those can be the most important. Those are the ones the when we neglect build up over time, the seemingly minor habits that create major problems. Once a year we can turn our attention to those, and commit to address them better in the coming year.