The Cult I Joined

The Cult I Joined

Ten years ago I joined a cult.

Of course, like most people who join cults, I didn’t realize I’d joined one until I dropped out of it…

A lot of frum moms from the neighborhood and all over Israel had joined. And the group facilitator was Orthodox.

But then rabbis starting condemning it. And the woman who started the movement blamed the local facilitators for inaccurately transmitting her approach. And then there were front-page headlines in major newspapers blasting the “Drawers cult.”

And I guess all these things made me understand just how downright weird the whole thing had been from the very beginning.

This was how it worked… Every week, a group of women would get together, and one participant would bring in a drawer from her house. Yes, she would bring an actual drawer—her silverware/spatula/corkscrew drawer, or her bills/pens/scissors drawer, or her socks/stockings/nightgowns drawer.

The facilitator would then instruct her to look at the drawer and say, “This drawer is a reflection of me.”

And the participant would look down at her drawer with a forlorn expression and say something like, “This drawer is a mess, and I’m a mess too…”

And then, with everybody watching her, and with the guidance of the facilitator, the woman would clean her drawer.

And then she would proclaim: “I am worthy! I am a daughter of the King!” and some other things I can’t remember.

And for the rest of the meeting, we would discuss positive thinking and Divine Providence as well as the most effective floor detergent on the market and which size of plastic containers was needed for a given participant’s drawer-organizing conundrum.

Our facilitator, a nursery school teacher named Sima, would exhort us week after week to clean out a drawer every single day, preferably with a sponsor who guided us step-by-step by phone.

I was one of the slackers in the group. If I even cleaned one drawer a week, that was a good week.

But even thought it was a cult, the group did change me in a good way. Because, I guess, all cults, including this strange one, contain a small kernel of truth.

Let me give you some background here….

My mom is a person who loves many things.

She loves her work as a psychiatrist. She loves seeing plays and going to museums. She loves reading new books and reading the New York Times “as it’s meant to be read.” She loves my father, b”H, and us kids and the grandchildren—very much.

But something that she does not love…in fact, something that she hates, is everything domestic. She hates cleaning and cooking and everything involved in the maintenance of the house.

Which meant that when I became a mom, and the responsibility for most everything that happened inside the house fell into my lap, I hated that domestic stuff too…

And the cult I joined changed that.

Last night, I was cleaning out our laundry corner. I cleared off the top of the washing machine, and threw away the splattered sheets we had used to cover the furniture when we painted last summer, and found 2 pairs of Yoel’s tsitsis that I thought I would never find again. And even EIGHT YEARS after my Drawers chapter was busted, last night when I looked over what I had done, I felt such a profound feeling of nachas and satisfaction wash over me.

For the whole year, that laundry corner is a mess. And I am a mess. And now that laundry corner is in order. And I’m in order too.

Drawers taught me to access that sweet feeling that JewishMOMS have been accessing for millennia when Purim passes and Pesach approaches and they are able to get one more corner of their house in nice and clean.

But when we clean for Passover, we aren’t just striving to FEEL good. We’re striving to BE good. By freeing ourselves from the bad thoughts and things that pull us down day after day and destroy us. From the chametz floating around inside our skulls and souls.

Today is the 25th of Adar, the first day of the 72 Days of Kindness that end on Shavuot. The great Kabbalist, the Leshem (the grandfather of Harav Elyashiv zts”l) taught that these are the most powerful days of the year to clean up your most frustrating and stubborn character traits.

During these days, Jewish mysticism teaches that if you put in even the most teensy and microscopic effort to change, God will carry you on eagle’s wings so that you can (nearly) effortlessly become the kind of person you have always dreamed of being.

3 years ago I had a remarkable experience as a result of the 72 days of Kindness. I was pregnant, and the whole pregnancy I was terrified that I would experience the same postpartum emotional difficulties that had driven me crazy after every birth since my Hallel was born 12 years ago. I had tried so many zillions of things to feel better postpartum, and while changing my diet and homeopathy had helped somewhat, nothing had really managed to fully do away with my intractable postpartum nuttiness.

But Rabbi Aryeh Nivin promised us students that if we make a small effort every day, then he would sign on the dotted line that we would be different people by the time Shavuot rolled around. So even though I was 99% certain that I was a hopeless case, I decided that on the off chance it would work, I would dedicate 5 minutes a day to a joyful, fantastic postpartum period.

For one week of the 72 days, for example, I spent 5 minutes a day visualizing myself feeling so relaxed and coping fantastically after the birth. Another week I read a book about positive thinking for 5 minutes a day. And another week I read Garden of Emuna for 5 minutes a day and focused on the fact that God can make anything happen.

And the truth is that….it worked. I don’t have any other explanation for the fact that since those 72 days three years ago I have had 2 babies, and the postpartum nuttiness has not reappeared to rain on my parade. Thank you God!!!

And that is the power of these days…

To feel the sweet feeling of a drawer cleaned, that I experienced in that cult. And to go a step further…

Not just having a house that LOOKS good. And not just having a heart that FEELS good. But also having a soul that IS good. IY”H.

Here’s a video I made a few years ago with more info about the 72 Days of Kindness…Skip over the intro about the Omer period
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photo credit: just.Luc via photopin cc

Related posts:

The Making of a Godol (4-Minute Inspirational Video)
25 Year Later: Hashem and the Crown Heights Riots by Tamar Stone
My Non-College Graduation

9 comments

  1. Rachel Espinoza

    You write so beautifully and provide so much inspiration to keep our daily lives as Jewish Moms exciting and meaningful! Thank you for reminding me what Pesach cleaning is all about and hatzlacha with the rest of yours!

  2. Sara Menashe

    WOW! Thank you for such an amazing article! I just ate lunch and worked a little while my students are at art. Then I read this! B”H for your transparency which allows so many of us to be inspired to work on ourselves!

    Thank you and hatzlachah!

  3. Thank you so much for sharing these words. I really owe it to you that I finally up and joined R’ Nivin’s chabura. It is changing my life…one tiny step at a time. Reading this reminds me to keep taking those little steps, especially now, and to trust that G-d will take me further than I ever could have dreamed.

  4. Can u please post the link to the article/video where u originally described how to do the 72 days? Thank you!

  5. GOOD for you, Chana Jenny!

  6. Hi Chana Jenny

    I found this piece quite interesting but more so because of the lead-in…I live somewhere in Israel that still has a (very strong) group of the kind you described, led by a well-known public figure. I moved here a few months ago, was encouraged by a friend to go but left after a couple of months because I felt really uncomfortable, something didn’t feel “right” about the method- although it was less focused on bringing drawers and more on the opinions of the leader of how to lead our lives as strong Jewish women.

    When I read more about the method online I found opinions such as your own that the group is part of a cult-like movement. Was there ever any solid evidence for this? I know this is kind of off-subject but I just never really understood what the bottom line was- for all the people claiming the movement is whacko there are people arguing passionately that it is completely legitimate and things were taken out of proportion.

    I would appreciate hearing from you- and if you do not wish to publicize my comment seeing as it’s kind of off topic but could answer privately that’d be fine…of course if you even have the time with Pesach cleaning etc 😉

  7. I was definitely shaking my head over this one… Chana Jenny this weeks posts seem like you’ve been taking a trip down memory lane… Probably all the clearing out and finding things long forgotten… Seems like you are doing all the right kind of cleaning! The spiritual kind…
    Thanks for taking the time out from your Pesach prep to inspire the rest of us!

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