It’s a pity, but many members of my generation take for granted running water. It’s a further pity that we’ve need to be reminded by Torah greats, like Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, who scolded us in his drasha on gratitude, to stay beholden for simple goodnesses in our lives, like existent infrastructures.

Sadly, most of us only recognize the value of precious things, for example, the reliable accessibility of running water, when we are missing them, even when we are missing them only for a very brief span. A few weeks ago, I experienced one such period. Namely, the pipes in my apartment building were shut off for a few hours so that the city could install new water meters.

Normally, my mornings begin with hand washing, using the toilet, more hand washing, and then a shower. My first washing of hands is meant to spiritually clean them, to remove the ruach ra’ah, the invisible negative spirit that settles on people while they sleep. My need to relieve myself after waking up is self-explanatory. My second washing of hands is meant to physically clean them after I use the toilet. My shower is meant to clean everything else, i.e., to allow me to start my day physically fresh.

The night before, anticipating the forthcoming lack of water, I placed a two liter bottle next to my bathroom sink. I used that water for both hand washings. Per the toilet, I did not flush and I discarded my toilet paper in a bag that I had likewise set up. As per the toilet bowl, I shut its lid and then waited for the return of the water to clear it. Additionally, I postponed my shower.

Thereafter, I prayed. My “good morning” to Hashem was not altered by my lack of running water.

After morning prayers, I typically make breakfast. That day, I did not cook eggs, my usual protein, as I only had hand wipes or bottled water with which to clean away any spilled albumin or yolk. I, did, however use bottled water for my tea.

Prior to learning about the water shutoff, my plan for that day had been to conquer laundry since no wash had been put up during the entirety of Sukkot. Like my shower, though, the laundry was delayed.

While my lack of running water did not impact my writing or editing tasks, it did have a bearing on others of my duties. I could not wash dishes in my sink or use my dishwasher to clean them. Like my body and my clothing, my tableware remained dirty until the flow of water was restored to my building.

Fortunately, the city’s work lasted only a few hours. Once my water was restored, I was able to run laundry, turn on the dishwasher, and reacquaint myself with my shampoo and soap.

I imagined what life might be like during natural disasters or civil unrest, times when I might lack running water for a full day, for days, for weeks, for months, or for longer. I pondered, too, what life might be like without sewage, electricity, gas, and the other niceties to which I’d grown accustomed.

Further, I know that diseases breed in uncollected garbage and that most contemporary folks rely on the Internet for banking, ordering groceries, filling prescriptions, communicating with family and friends, work, and much more. I realize, too, that whereas some raw foods are palatable, many are not and that few, if any, modern apartments feature fireplaces. What’s more, without smoothly operating community resources such as roads, police forces, fire departments, and so forth, our society would very quickly be reduced to a dystopia. Whereas I hope that the Jewish State would remain a place of kindness and consideration, it’s possible, has v’shalom, that locals would quickly abandon civilities under dire conditions.

Consider that even when our social foundations are in place, children often argue, even fight, over castoffs before Lag B’Omer. Similarly, women all but involve themselves in altercations over chicken before Tishri. Equally, many men forego the refinements that they pledged to uphold, that are rooted in the awareness created by their many years of learning, to be the first to secure a season’s sufganiyot or to flee amid a stampede of kindred victims of faulty bleachers.

I’m not pointing fingers (moral perfection is unattainable) as much as I’m suggesting that all of us benefit when any of us embrace appreciativeness. Thankful people are mindful. Mindful people are less likely to turn savage than brazen people when the going gets tough.

After all, life’s challenges, ordinarily, are more severe than losing water for a few hours. If we can conscientiously welcome the water that runs from our faucets, then, perhaps, we can also survive more arduous tests, especially those hardships that we endure in the company of our fellows.

Sure, whether or not I acknowledge the gift of being able to have a regular shower hour does nothing to help the individual who was hit by a bus or his child who is suddenly bereft of his parent. Nonetheless, my awareness of my life’s privileges increases my willingness to notice and to react supportively to other people’s suffering. It remains vital to ואהבת לרעך כמוך. Valuing my running water makes me more kind-hearted to others.

About the Author
KJ Hannah Greenberg has been playing with words for an awfully long time. Initially a rhetoric professor and a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, she shed her academic laurels to romp around with a prickle of imaginary hedgehogs. Thereafter, her writing has been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than forty books published and has served as an editor for several literary journals.
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