Is it OK to own a lot of stuff? Is it OK to want to have a lot of things? Is it wrong to enjoy a good shopping spree and to delight in yet another Amazon box at your doorstep?

People often rail against the consumer culture in which we live, and there’s something intuitively noble about the notion of paring down and making do with less. He who is content with very little and shuns an overt material lifestyle would seem to be oh-so-righteous, no?

So the next time you’re tempted to order another gadget on Amazon, is the “right” thing to hold back? If you have a lot of stuff in your closets, is it pious to start clearing things out and donating them?

No, that’s not necessary.

In a surprising twist, the Torah teaches us a radical approach to how we ought to think about all our “stuff.”

Clearing the House

In the two portions of Tazria and Metzora, we learn about a curious leprosy-like disease called tzara’at that was prevalent in ancient times as a punishment for one who spoke slanderous words. Towards the end of our parshah, we learn about tzara’at that appears not on human skin, but on the walls of one’s house.

Upon spotting a lesion, the owner is to call a kohen to determine whether or not it is indeed tzara’at. Prior to the arrival of the kohen, the Torah tells us that he will first send a warning: “The kohen shall order that they clear out the house, before the kohen comes to look at the lesion, so that everything in the house should not become unclean. After this, the kohen shall come to look at the house.”1

You see, if the house turns out to indeed be infected, it is deemed impure—along with everything inside of it. Inasmuch as, in Rashi’s words, “the Torah is concerned for the property of the Jewish people,”2 the owner is afforded the chance to clear his possessions from the house before the kohen arrives and thus spare them from potential destruction.

This is quite surprising. After all, we’re talking about someone who has gravely sinned, a slanderer who is getting what’s coming to him for speaking ill of others. Why are we so concerned about his possessions? One could even argue that he deserves it, so why are we giving him the chance to spare his stuff?

Concerned About the Property

The key lies in careful examination of the words “the Torah is concerned for the property of the Jewish people.” Note that the concern here is not for the owner and the prospect of him crying over his lost jugs, rather it is for the jugs themselves, the “property.”

This brings us to a classic Chassidic idea about “divine sparks” and our mission on earth.

It’s a big idea, like mind-blowingly big, but here it is in a nutshell: Though it may not seem this way to the naked eye, everything in this world has a divine “spark,” a G‑dly force of energy that animates it. Trapped inside the coarse material matter of your laptop, your steak dinner and the front door of your house is a divine spark of G‑dliness waiting to be redeemed.3

How are these sparks redeemed?

By interacting and engaging with them for holy purposes. And when I say “holy purposes,” that doesn’t necessarily mean to saw off your front door and fashion a Torah-scroll holder out of it. Rather, every time you pass through your front door and kiss the mezuzah, it has now been sublimated, the G‑dly spark released. When you use your laptop to read a Torah column or use the energy boost from your steak dinner to finally clean the garage like your wife asked you to, the sparks in those items are redeemed as well.

In fact, taught the famous Chassidic master the Baal Shem Tov,4 when you’re hungry for a bowl of vegan steel-cut oats, it’s not what you think it is. You think you want the oats because you’re hungry. But what’s really going on is that your G‑dly soul senses the divine spark in those steel-cut oats and wants to set them free, so you’re now all of a sudden hungry for oats. Voilà—you eat the oats, you use that energy to help your friend move into her new apartment, and the sparks are flying high.

Your Spark

The Kabbalists take this idea one step further, lending precision to the specific items we interact with over the course of our life. You see, if your job is to engage with material matter and make it holy, then it follows that the particular items life throws your way are not random. Rather, the reason why you own a Macbook and not a Surface Pro (besides the fact that you’re convinced the Macbook is so much better) is because there’s something about your soul that makes you uniquely suited to be the one to redeem the G‑dly spark in that particular Macbook.5

You ordered steak and not chicken? It’s because you’re the one who’s best suited to sublimate steak right now.

The Kabbalists use this idea to explain why we lose things at random: It’s because your job redeeming the G‑dly energy in that item is over, and there’s now someone else whose soul is better suited to engage with it. So you lose your MacBook and someone else finds it, picking up the spiritual work where you left off.

Hopefully, that’ll make you feel better about the Macbook you recently lost.

We emerge with a profound understanding of the idea that “the Torah is concerned for the property of the Jewish people.” Yes, it’s the property (not just the person) the Torah is concerned about, because the Torah wants you to own it, engage with it, and redeem the G‑dly energy in it.

And that’s why the Torah wants the person whose house is about to be condemned because of tzara’at to keep his things. Though he may have sinned and arguably deserves to lose the roof over his head, that doesn’t change the fact that his soul is still uniquely suited to transform the dishes, furniture and gadgets in his home. If we’re able to keep them in his hands, we’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen so he can continue engaging with “his” soul-items.

Keep Your Stuff

And with that, we now can now officially feel better about all the stuff we own—if we approach it the right way. Once we understand that the material items in our possession are uniquely matched to our soul and only we can properly make them holy and divine, well, then we should tackle that mission with gusto.

So if you were thinking about selling your newest iPhone on eBay because you were inspired to lead a simpler lifestyle, consider this: Don’t sell it; rather, resolve to use it in the most G‑dly way possible. Read Torah articles on it, send out helpful messages to friends, and listen to Torah classes with your podcast apps.

If you have a lot of clothing, dress your finest on Shabbat and festivals. If you’re a foodie, perhaps up the kosher game in your neighborhood and persuade a friend on the fence that kosher isn’t all that bland. If your house is grand, no need to downsize; rather, invite guests to celebrate Shabbat, host a Torah class, or have a get-together that uplifts people’s spirits.

If G‑d has given you “stuff,” it is your duty to reflect on how you are uniquely suited to engage with those things in a holy, G‑dly, meaningful way. Enjoy it, use it, and most importantly, do good things with it.6