Rav Avigdor Miller on Clean Jewish Homes
Should religious Jews be careful to have neat and clean homes?
Now pay attention to what I’m going to tell you now. This subject you must understand as follows. But don’t be prejudiced by what I’m going to tell you in the beginning. There was an Ilse Kuch. Ilse Kuch, y’mach sh’mah, was a famous Nazi woman. And in the concentration camps, she used to walk around with a whip and she would beat the dying inmates. She was called The Beast of Buchenwald. If you want a picture of one of the lowest characters in history, that’s it.
Now at her trial, there were Germans who spoke up for Ilse Kuch and defended her. And what did they say in her defense? They said that her kitchen is spotless! And I believe it; I’m sure it was. So keep that in mind while I give you the answer now. That was the introduction to the answer.
Now, if you’re going to have a Jewish house, it means you’re going to have children. And if you have children, it means one, two, three, four, five, six; various ages. And in a house full of children, it’s not ‘near impossible’, it’s impossible to have a spick and span house. If you’re one of these women, one of these modern orthodox women who want to live a selfish life, so you’ll have one baby and then you’ll practice “spacing.” Until this baby is already an old man, and then you’ll have another one. So maybe that woman will succeed in having a nice clean house.
But if you’re not doing any spacing, if you’re trying to raise a Jewish generation, it’s impossible to expect such a thing. It’s only in these castles of selfishness, where people live only for themselves, so the house is nice and clean – because there is nobody there to make it dirty. That’s number one.
And the second thing is this. I was once in a Jewish house in Boro Park. And it was a house of love and warmth. Any wayfarer who would knock on the door at night and say, “I have no place to sleep,” they wouldn’t ask any questions. “Come in, there’s place here to sleep.” Now, if you have a fancy home, so you’ll think, “Maybe this man is filthy; maybe he’s a bearer of bedbugs.” How can you let him sleep on your nice bed? You’ll let him into your bathroom?! He’ll contaminate your nice toilet seat. It’s hard for a nice ba’al habus to let a stranger into his fancy and clean home. So he says, “Go someplace else; go to the rabbi. Go to this one or go to that one.” He sends him away to the rabbi.
The Bostoner Rebbe, in Boston, he has a big house. And anybody who wants can find lodging there – and food too. You walk into the house during the day, two o’clock in the afternoon, there’s a man eating breakfast. He slept late, so he’s eating breakfast. Nobody bothers him. The people in the house know that’s the Rebbi’s system. You walk in and they have a place to sleep for you always; there’s always something to eat.
How could it be fancy, such a house? It can’t a spick and span house if people are always coming in, going out, coming in, going out. Even if you have fine guests, they bring in their baggage all over the floor. If your home is a place of hachnosas orchim, a place of hospitality, then it can’t be fancy.
Now, in this home that I was in, in Boro Park, it looked like they were moving. They weren’t moving; but everything was in wrong place. And that’s because there were children all over the place. They had little children all over the place. You can’t always give a child rubber diapers. He leaves an impression sometimes. And there were always guests in that place, wayfarers. Here’s a meshulach, drinking a glass of tea. And the mother of the house, as soon as she finishes preparing the tea, she has to make lunch for somebody. She’s packing up a lunch. She can’t take care of everything. So she’s taking care of her children and the meshulachim instead of cleaning the walls. And therefore, we’re seeing here that if it’s a house of raising children, and a house of hospitality, then it’s next to impossible that it should be clean and neat all the time.
And now, a third thing; something else. If you’re poor, if you don’t invest a lot of money into your house, it’s going to be shabby. Now, don’t tell me this fairy tale, poor but clean.’ A shabby house is shabby! The linoleum is worn through! And if the linoleum is worn through and there’s a big hole in the linoleum, don’t tell me that you get down on your knees three times a day and scrub out the hole. Dust accumulates in that hole and that’s it. There’s a nail sticking out where the linoleum used to be. It’s impossible!
I once walked into the house of Rav Aron Kotler, zichrono l’vracha. Now, I’m not an expert on a neat house, so I’m not judging its neatness. But it was a poor house, a very poor house. And because of that Rav Aron rose in my eyes all the way up. I saw that he didn’t take the money from the Yeshiva and spend it on expensive things. He lived poorly. He lived very poorly. He gave the money to the boys in the Yeshiva who were hungry. There were poor boys who needed it.
So if you want to have a spick and span home, that means that you’ll invest in this world instead of the next world. Instead of charity, you’re buying things for yourself, for the house, expensive things. Don’t bother telling me this fairy tale of ‘poor but clean.’ It means expensive! It means investing a lot of money, besides for investing a lot of time.
Now, certainly it’s good to have a clean home. Certainly. But anybody who’s criterion of the quality of people in the home, is if the home is clean or not, that person is a fool; he’s an idiot. Why do I say that? Because he’s a goy. He has the head of a goy. You know that there are some goyim who every day they go to the cleaners. Cleaners tell me that. Their best customers are the … ! Why are the … the best customers? They’re the cleanest people; every day they’re cleaning their clothing! Because they have no ideals in life. So all they know is that they want to be clean and smell good. Besides, goyim, I’m sorry to say, have more occasion to unbutton themselves, to expose themselves, than others people have. Decent people are covered up all the time. But they’re in contact all the time, males and females, and so they want to smell the best that they can. So they bathe twice a day.
And therefore, are we going to emulate animals?! We live for the purpose of spiritual achievement, for being kindly, serving Hashem, doing mitzvos. Certainly, the gemara says that the house of a talmid chochom is well ordered. Certainly! Everything should be in place. Certainly everything should be mesudar; everything should be neat. But the question is where is it on the list of virtues? So along came some goy with a new Torah that cleanliness is next to you know what. And the Jews swallow this bait and they repeat the same thing. You know, people who say “Cleanliness is next to G-dliness” they are the people who hold that G-dliness is meaningless. It’s a hundred percent rule.
So in answer to your question: Should the homes of religious Jews be neat and clean? Absolutely. But we have another question: Should the homes of religious Jews be full of little children? And should religious Jews and their homes be hospitable to the poor and needy? There’s a home not far from here, and to that home a man once came; an old man who never married. He has no home, no family. So they let him in. He slept there one night and he said, “Can I sleep here a little longer?” So they let him stay a little longer. He’s been sleeping there for ten years already. Ten years! He’s been sleeping and eating for ten years in this home! Not far from here. I’ll tell you privately where it is. And he’s an old man, a demanding man. For breakfast, if you make for him his eggs not exactly the way he wants it, he tells the balabusteh. And she and her husband take it, and they take it more. It’s ten years of taking it! Now, if you have an old bachelor at home and he sleeps in your living room or wherever, and he eats whenever he wants in your kitchen, it can’t be so fancy.
I’ll tell you another story on this subject of neat and clean. Once, a young man called me up from Grand Central Station. It was eleven o’clock at night. “What do you want?” I asked. “Are you Rabbi Miller?” he asked, “The one who wrote Rejoice O’ Youth?” So I said, “Yes.” He tells me that he came from a city in the Midwest and he read my book and he decided he wants to visit me. I said, “But it’s eleven o’clock at night! And it’ll take you another hour to get here! ” He says he has no place else to go. I said “Do you have money?” “No, I have no money.” So what can I do? He read my book. So he came to me. So it’s twelve o’clock at night – and I go to sleep early, mind you – and he comes waltzing into my house. He comes with duffel bags, and all kinds of stuff. He’s here to stay! I took a look and I saw nit gut, it’s not good. I thought to myself, “Tonight, one night, OK.” So he slept in my house.
You see I’m not that kind of Jew. I’m talking about good Jews! So the next morning I called up one of our people in the shul who had a car and I said to him, “Take this young man with all of his stuff to the Satmerer Beis Hamedrash, and leave him there. Right in the middle of the beis hamedrash and don’t worry about him.” I knew the Satmerer; I knew he’d be taken care of.
So he took him with all his duffel bags and his suitcase and everything else and he took him and he parked him in the Satmerer Beis Hamedrash in Williamsburg. A few minutes later a Polish Jew comes along – he davened there in the Satmerer shteibel – and started talking to him. Now this boy couldn’t speak a word of Yiddish, and this man could barely speak English. But they understood each other. It’s called “the language of the needy man.” He needs a place to eat and sleep. So he took him to his house and he kept him for two weeks! It was hot; it was summertime. This was before the were air conditioners in the homes. His wife called me up finally. She says there’s a stranger in her house; she can’t take off her coat and she has to wear a sheitel all the time. She can’t; it’s very uncomfortable. There’s a strange man in the house.
And they kept him for longer than two weeks however. He remained. They didn’t put him out on the street. For nothing by the way; nobody paid them anything. And finally another Jew, a Williamsburger Jew, took him in hand and took him into his home, and he found him a job, and a place to eat for Shabbos. And for years he suffered from him. He suffered from him; he wasn’t an easy fellow, this ba’al teshuva.
And so these are the people whose homes are not “neat and clean” enough?! At least you can get into their homes! Their homes are sanctuaries! If you want a neat and clean home, I’ll tell you what you should do. Try coming without money to, let’s say, Scarsdale. Spend your last nickel on car fare to Scarsdale and show up there at nine-thirty at night or ten o’clock at night. And knock on doors. And say, “I have no money. Can you give me some food and a place to sleep?” Now, I’m sure that the Scarsdale homes are fancy. There might be maids too. But they won’t even open the door to you. They might even call the police.
And so, there are different ways of looking at this subject. So if you have a lot of children spilling out all over the place, and you have a guest sprawled on the sofa, and to you’re trying with a broom and a brush to do the best that you can, so your house is the neatest and cleanest house that could be.