There were two possibilities. Bad luck, or sloppiness. Or so I thought. I had let the matter drop, until the Talmud (Berachot 5b) enlightened me as to the source of my troubles:
Aba Binyamin says “If [we were able] to see, no creature could endure on account of demons [that are around us]” [i.e. we would be so frightened at what we saw that we would expire]...Rav Huna said, "Each one of us has a thousand to his left and thousands to his right.." Rava said, “That pressing [feeling] at public lectures is because of them...those clothes of our rabbis that wear out is because of their rubbing are because of them.
Brief summary: 1) There are demons 2) They are the cause of certain annoyances 3) Among these is the quick deterioration of the clothing of rabbis/rabbinic students.
Why do I share this? It is a good reminder of the massive gulf that separates us from the Jewish past. We read the reflections of our forbears written 1000, 2000 or more years ago and try to relate our beliefs about God to their own.
And then we come across something like demons wearing down our clothes and we think, "Oh...the guy who believes that God punishes people who light fire on Shabbat is the same guy who believes that demons tear holes in my shirt."
So, why bother? Why try to accept Biblical, or Talmudic ideas about God? Maybe we should just treat them like we do the Demons-are-eating-my-clothes theory, and say "That's hilarious. And I reject it completely.
Why should religious belief be less prone to the ravages of time than strange superstitions? In another 1000 years, will the notion of God seems as ludicrous to our descendants as clothing-demons do to us?
But it is precisely these demons that keeps me at it. It is precisely the strange and uncomfortable that makes me more determined to find something to which I can relate. The animal sacrifices; the tabernacle; the goat which bears the sins of the community into the wilderness (the scapegoat); demons eating my clothing. These all speak to our historical situatedness and the contingency of our experience. Each generation creates a worldview that is impermeable to the inquiries of those who come later (what will our demons be, the ludicrous habits about which those after us will puzzle? Wave/particle duality? Kellogg's French Toaster Sticks?
The strange particulars of people at various points in history lead me to seek what is familiar and universal. My view of the deep-structure of the universe and of human being's relation to the divine is not confirmed by its similarity to the beliefs of those who share all of my assumptions. On the contrary. Only if I can verify that someone who believed in demons (and that they could be seen by grinding up the burnt placenta of a black cat and rubbing it in your eye - I'm not making that up) also shared my experience of what it means to contemplate God, to relate to the biggest questions we face, can I be sure that my beliefs have a grounding in the universal. It is the differences between us that make it possible to believe that, on a deep level, we have something in common.