Too much stuff (Daf Yomi Shekalim 12)

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“One who consecrates all his possessions.”

Several years ago, I sold the small apartment that I had lived in for thirty years. I had collected a lifetime of stuff, with a frightening amount of my net-worth tied up in shoes and handbags. Moving to a new apartment across town provided me with the opportunity to get rid of some of my possessions. In addition to accessories, I had kept all my college textbooks, slides from my childhood and a dusty slide projector, every iphone model from the first one that had hit the market and a tangled jumble of cords and plugs that were mostly obsolete.

I walked bag after bag of stuff to a nearby Housing Works, which over the course of a few weeks, became full of the things that constituted my life. I saw my extra suitcases in the shop’s window and hanging from special displays on the walls were my coats and dresses. My shoes were in the back neatly lined up against the wall. When I brought yet another bag to the shop, a new worker asked if my information was in their computer. I pointed out to her the things that had made up my life, including my grandmother’s teapot, my shoes from the last three decades, and my chunky jewelry, and for a moment I was prepared to scoop it all up and carry it home.

It did feel like I was somehow consecrating my possessions through turning them over to the universe and to someone who could get more joy from them than I could. And yes, I did the socks exercise and asked if they gave me joy as I weeded out my possessions, and to be honest, I never derived an ounce of joy from any sock and gave them all away. Of course, when the winter came, I had no socks. In today’s Daf Yomi we learn that one who consecrates all his possessions “without specifying for what purpose” had their donation slated for Temple maintenance.  My donations to Housing Works helped finance their AIDs advocacy mission.

We learn in today’s reading that if there are items that are suitable for a communal offering – like my grandmother’s silver teapot with our family initials engraved on it –they were given to the Temple artisans for their wages and as a result “desacralized” if one follows the advice of Rabbi Akiva. Ben Azzai would use the method that we learned about yesterday for desacralizing incense. Consecrated items were set aside to cover the wages of artisans who worked in the Temple. The sanctity was transferred to money, and then the items were given to the artisans as their wages.

Once the goods were in the hand of the artisans, they would be repurchased by the Temple treasurer using money from the year’s collection of half-shekels. The notes in the Koren Talmud tell us that it was not possible to desacralize the items directly with money from the Temple treasury and the sanctity had to be transferred to a non-sacred item. At the end of the day, the artisans got paid in funds once the transaction was concluded and my grandmother’s teapot was able to help support the operations of the Temple.

There were no animals among what I donated to the thrift shop. I did manage to catch my squeamish cat when the moving truck pulled up, and we all picked ourselves up and settled into our new home. But back in the days of the Temple, among the possessions that might be consecrated were live animals. (And as an aside, does anyone else feel devastated about the livestock that were trapped on the Ever Given container ship without adequate food and water for almost a week?)

The animals were sold to cover donations to the Temple. Some of the Rabbis were rather particular about the sex of the donated animals. We are told that only male animals could be sold to cover the needs of burnt offerings, and even in this rarified world of animal sacrifice, the females were passed over. They were acceptable for peace-offerings, and the proceeds from their sale could be allocated for Temple maintenance. At least this was the opinion of Rabbi Yehoshua. Rabbi Eliezer was more equalitarian and said that both male and female animals could be consecrated for Temple maintenance.

It is a feeling of relief and release, when a bag of clothes I no longer wear is dropped off at Housing Works. I feel just a little bit lighter in my life, although I know that I have many more items stuffed in my closets, that need to be weeded out and donated to someone who has better use for them. Three years after I moved and got rid of so much of stuff, I once again feel burdened down from owning too much.

I gave away half of my scarf collection when I moved, but today my scarf drawer is stuffed with scarfs of all shapes and sizes and fabrics. I gave away many, many shoes, but today, I still have too many lined across the floor of my bedroom closet. My hallway closet is stuffed with winter coats, because for some reason, I need a different weight for each month of the year. And let’s not talk about the books that I have collected since I moved and donated my beloved Riverside Shakespeare to the local thrift shop.

My acquisition habit is like my coffee addiction: as soon as I manage to tamp it down, the level of consumption goes right back up. At times, my life feels like a battle with too much stuff. It is time for some spring cleaning and asking once again, do these socks (or scarfs, or boots, or earrings) give me joy.

About the Author
Penny Cagan was born in New Jersey and has lived in New York City since 1980. She has published two books of poems called “City Poems “ and “And Today I am Happy." She is employed as a risk manager and continues to write poetry. More information on Penny can be found at
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