A Squash and a Squeeze is a beautiful children’s story that is a real favorite with my girls, and unlike many of the other books I read to them, where I am wondering guiltily if they will really notice if I skip a page or five, this is a book I have no problem reading… again and again. The book comes with an audiotape, so I mimic the wise old man and little old lady’s accent with the best Welsh accent I can muster.
The story centers on a little old lady who is dissatisfied with the size of her house, calling it a squash and a squeeze, (da-dum), but, with the advice of a wise old man (who looks like a venerable rabbi one might find in the kollels of Lakewood), who suggests that she bring in farmyard animals into her home, she soon discovers that it’s not as small as she thought. Not understanding, at first, why bringing animals into her already-small home would help her predicament, she questions the wisdom of the wise old man’s advice, but nonetheless welcomes in animals, one by one, who wreak havoc on her home. The wise old man’s final piece of advice is to take out each animal, one by one, and by the time her home is an animal-free zone, nafal ha’asimon, the penny has dropped, and she realizes that her home, after all, is not quite the “squash and the squeeze” she originally felt it to be.
To me, this sweet story captures the essence of life, and I have had many a “squash and a squeeze” moment. Living in an apartment in a neighborhood which predominantly boasts large and beautiful homes, I, too, have experienced on occasion a “squash and a squeeze” feeling, where I just feel that what I have just isn’t enough. And while I am not at the point of wanting to welcome in farmyard animals into our home in order to make me appreciate what I have – not being the greatest animal lover in the world – I do see that perspective is everything. It is OK and natural to want more – we are not nazirites that seek a lifestyle where abstinence is virtuous – but remember that you have a choice how to perceive your reality, and that everything is relative. You can want more, without sinking into depression about it – and the important thing is that in your desire to achieve more, earn more, possess more, don’t lose sight of all the good things you have in your life – whether it be your husband, your children, your friends…
For many years, I have fought (admittedly not very hard, given my shopaholic tendencies) against my materialistic inclinations. I felt that being materialistic ran counter to Jewish thought. Wanting a big house, lots of clothes, nice vacations just wasn’t holy, in my book. I didn’t know how to reconcile those two aspects of my being – the desire to “have more” and my desire to be a good Jew.
I used to feel very guilty for comparing what I have to what others have – but then I realized that if I weren’t to do that, I probably wouldn’t be human. The desire for “more,” “bigger,” and “better” is what makes human beings grow, work harder, and thrive to improve, in the interest of bettering their lives. Yes, it is true, most people, upon leaving the Diaspora, and making Aliyah, breathe a sigh of relief at escaping the materialistic mindset, whereby the size of your house determines the size of your happiness – but not always.
In my mind, as long as your desire to be extremely wealthy includes a desire to give tzedakah (charity), and doesn’t turn you into a snob, then there is not necessarily a dichotomy. It’s just a hard balance to strike – but I guess that’s what Judaism is all about. The struggle to achieve balance.