The stuff we are made of

Just which buried treasures are laid out upon the simmering sidewalk at this particularly peculiar garage sale? Upon closer, albeit skeptical, glance: three tired-looking vases, a misshapen magazine rack and an odd assortment of framed photos lethargically lounge under the sweltering sun.

Behind Mr. Garage Salesperson there are mountains of — dare I say it — junk: extension cords, a hamper, dusty toys, yellowed newspapers, among other random items. People are busy rifling through the — dare I say it again — junk.

I must run. Run before I become entangled in that huge mess of possessions, aptly called a “gar(b)age sale.” No, I don’t need lamps, extension cords, vases or framed pictures of daisies and petunias. No, I most certainly don’t, and no, I most certainly won’t make a purchase at this particular shopping venue.

Make no mistake about it; I’ve got plenty of shopping to do and no time to waste. There are only two short months left until the summer, and the kids desperately need stuff.

Stuff. What a word. While stuffed cabbage might taste delicious and a stuffed toy may enchant an infant, the word “stuff,” to my mind, sounds ominous. An elevator can be stuffed with people, and then by consequence feel stuffy and uncomfortable. A stuffy closet or room is always unpleasant.

But “stuff” can also mean things. Many of us have a running list of the “stuff” or things we must, just must, have.

Yet, at the end of summer, those once sparkling sandals or sneakers or swim shoes seem to wither into oblivion. That very much wanted outfit and its shiny accompanying accessories have lost their luster, as though a new season has pushed them into obscurity.

In the text of Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of Our Fathers (a compilation of practical, short teachings of our sages, traditionally recited on the long Shabbat afternoons from Passover through Rosh Hashanah), it states: Marbeh nechasim marbeh daagah, “the more possessions, the more worry.”

As human beings, we have plenty of needs. Fresh food, clean clothing and comfortable shelter certainly help us thrive. These we can identify as necessary essentials.

Therefore, we do need to buy groceries, shop for clothing and furnish, as well as maintain, our homes.

But let’s think about the words “more” and “possessions.”

Might “more” mean more than what we’ve owned last year, one in each color, or simply more extras just in case? Might “more” mean at least as much — or more — as the next-door-who-have-more neighbors?

The ever-increasing incidents of Marbeh Nechasim (more possessions) Syndrome are simply more-tifying. MNS, this modern day pheno-more-nom, can even be the “more” thoughts that run through our minds, like a train on a circular track chugging the repeated refrain: more, more, more. When awakening in the morning, we might first think, I need more sleep, more energy. Then the “more”s tend to accumulate in rapid succession throughout the day. The cereal needs more milk. The homework could have been more thorough. Our boss or teacher wants more from us, requiring that much more time and patience — and we haven’t even mentioned possessions yet.

Upon making a purchase, I have often heard from the salesperson cheerily accepting my currency, “Is that all?” “How good of you to ask!” I facetiously think. “Why, no! I desperately need a wicker picnic basket, and periwinkle pillow shams. Oh, and . . . a deep-sea diver for my fish tank. How very thoughtful of you to remind me of all this! Why, yes. Please do add those necessary items to my bag at once.”

I’ll happily admit, it’s fun to buy and have things. But MNS somehow always seems to rear its scheming head just when I least expect it.

Shriek. Where is it? I’ve lost it.
Sniff. It’s torn, stained, shrunk.
Scowl. I need an upgrade.
Shout. I must buy the accessories and attachments.
Gasp. Now it’s on sale! I bought it at full price.
Oh! (deep sigh). All this simply doesn’t fit into my house; I need more storage space.

Fortunately, this abysmal syndrome can be effectively remedied. Have you met the distinguished alternative healer with a specialty in MNS? He doesn’t peddle any hard-to-swallow vitamins, or strange-smelling liquids in delicate vials. His regimen is easy to follow, and he even makes house calls on Shabbat!

To be fair, it’s not just one doctor; there are many. Meet some of the sages from Ethics of the Fathers: Hillel, Shimon Hatzadik, Antignos Ish Socho, Yehoshua ben Perachyah and Ben Bag Bag, to name a few. Now, more than ever, it’s time to open our minds and hearts to their invaluable teachings and profound lessons, allowing us to see beyond today’s material culture. Their sacred words enable us to discover a spiritual space where “more” carries deeper value; we are ultimately guided to appreciate life, our possessions, and our fellow beings in a new light.

For as long as we’re human, we’ll always need stuff. But we can take a better look at stuff—that is, the stuff we’re made of, and the stuff we’re made for.

Originally published on

About the Author
Chana holds an M.S. in Special Education. Her innovative poems, essays and lectures reflect two and a half decades of experience working with students of all ages and abilities. Chana's writing has been published on, as well as in The Canadian Jewish News, The Jewish Press, and AMI. As a longtime volunteer with the Friendship Circle, Chana was recognised by the Ontario Legislature for “bringing a smile to the faces of children with special needs.” Although Chana 's "heart is in the east" she currently lives with her with her family in Toronto.