It’s my birthday tomorrow, and on this birthday in particular, I’m thinking about the woman I am named after, Lieba bat Aharon z”l (Libby Leibmann Levy), my great grandmother.
As long as I can remember, I’ve been told that Gramma and I share a common trait. I like to call it being creative, but it the big wide world, it goes by the name of thriftiness. Now, there’s a common conception of thrift being punctuated by miserly or stingy habits. Yet, the founder of Mussar Movement, Rabbi Yisroel Lipkin Salanter, considered thriftiness (קִמּוּץ) one of the most important characteristics that a person can develop. Of course there are limits – you can only store so many plastic shopping bags before they converge as a tattery, staticky avalanche across the kitchen floor. I totally get that. However, a healthy approach to thriftiness stems from a much more positive motivation, one which demonstrates why Rabbi Salanter chose it as one of his Top 13.
The Hebrew word for thriftiness, (קִמּוּץ), has another meaning – closed tightly, or, clenched. When we don’t let something go to waste, we seal it off from becoming waste, making sure it gets its full use. Or as we like to say in education, we enable it to reach its full potential.
Gramma lived through the Great Depression, and I presume that heavily influenced her tendency to reuse plastic bags and sheets of tin foil. After all, a sandwich bag is just a sandwich bag…until you can’t afford to buy more sandwich bags. Then, even the most minute of everyday objects take on greater value. Beyond the days of the Depression, I’m told that Gramma continued to make each item and penny count. She made the most of the things G-d blessed her with. She didn’t let them go forgotten.
Thriftiness, at its essence, is about making things count; seeing that which can easily go unnoticed, noticed. When we make the most of what G-d gives us, we give back fulfillment, or really, life, to that which we have received. Things don’t have feelings or lungs or other telltale signs of what we call “life,” but they do have purpose…and when we instill in ourselves a sensitivity to purpose, we’ll see it in the more complex arenas of our relationships to ourselves, others, and with Hakadosh Baruch Hu.
May our acts of קִמּוּץ in 5776 bring an aliyah to the neshama of Lieba bat Aharon.