Where Did the Dirt Come From?

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A Lesson For the Children – Yosef and Miriam moved into a new house. They were very happy, thanking G-d for the new house and for the low price that they had paid, for the new neighborhood, and for the neighbors, who seemed to be pleasant and friendly.

One day Miriam said to her husband: “Yosef, something is strange. I look out of the window and see our neighbor hanging her laundry to dry. When I take a closer look, for no special reason, I see that the laundry is very dirty. I thought that this might have happened by mistake – perhaps some stains were not removed by washing, something like that. But the next day the same thing happened again, as it did the following day. Evidently they have many children and a lot of laundry, and that is why she hangs up new laundry every day. But it is never clean! This is really strange.”

Yosef went to the window to look. The neighbor’s laundry was right next to their window and in fact it almost completely blocked the view. His wife was right. All the laundry was dirty and full of stains. It really looked weird. Clotheslines full of clothing, but all of it with ugly dirt. Yosef and Miriam began to discuss this phenomenon and to try to figure out an explanation. Could it be that the woman did not know how to wash laundry? Or were they so poor that they did not have a washing machine? Could it be that they could not even afford to buy soap?

Miriam decided that she would try to help her neighbor. She bought some of the best quality laundry soap and secretly left it near her neighbor’s door. But nothing changed. The stains were still there, and if anything they were even worse than before. Miriam was very depressed, and in fact she felt some anger for this woman who raised her children among such dirt. She thought, the children are unfortunate indeed, they must suffer from being mocked by all their friends about their dirty clothes.

As it happens, the neighbor’s children always appeared happy and satisfied. When they wore the clothing, it somehow did not seem so bad. And they were certainly not bothered by the way they looked. But this upset Miriam even more. She could forgive somebody who was not able to take care of himself, either because of a financial problem or because he or she had learned to ignore the problem. But he should at least understand that he had a problem! He should at least feel uncomfortable!

And then one day Yosef called Miriam to come to the window. Without saying anything, he pointed at the clothing on the line, which as usual blocked their field of view. She was completely flabbergasted by the change. Everything was sparkling and absolutely clean! The white shirts were blindingly white, and the whole laundry suddenly appeared to almost shine from cleanliness. Yosef and Miriam suddenly felt that they had brighter sunlight in their house.

“What happened?” Miriam wondered out loud. “I wonder what changed. Could it be that they finally bought a good washing machine? Or perhaps a social worker came and taught the wife how to do laundry? Maybe a teacher could no longer tolerate the condition of the children and reported to the welfare services about them.”

But Yosef cut her off. “No, no. What happened is that I finally bought some good window cleaner, and last night I worked very hard and cleaned our window! Our neighbor’s laundry was always clean. It did not even have a single stain! What made us think that it was dirty was our own point of view. When we changed our outlook by cleaning our own window, everything suddenly looked different!”

With thanks to Pinchas Rimon. Reactions and Suggestions for Stories: yikhat1@smile.net.il. Reprinted with permission from Zomet Institute (www.zomet.org.il). Translated from the Hebrew by Moshe Goldberg. To subscribe to receive the complete version of Shabbat B’Shabbato please write to dan@zomet.org.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.