Becoming observant transformed my Passover experience. Our Seders had deeper meaning, often stretching into the wee hours of the morning. The Haggadah began to resonate and, thanks to my children’s Hebrew school, new, beautiful songs were added to our repertoire.
It was the swishing of brooms in surround sound that confounded me. I guess deep cleaning was my personal challenge. Stumped by the scouring pads, I would glare at them, wondering how to connect scrubbing with spirituality. By the time I would pick up my broom, my industrious neighbors had usually finished cleaning their houses and were already cooking for the Seder.
I realized I had much to learn. One morning, I followed the scent of brisket wafting down the hall from my neighbor’s apartment. I just knew I had to follow it. I needed to learn her deep cleaning secrets. It was now or never.
I knocked timidly on her door. Pans were clanging from inside and I heard humming. Her joy emboldened me and I knocked louder. The door flew open and I was greeted with a wide smile.
I babbled to her about the weather (so warm), the price of gefilte fish (so high) and about trying spelt matzah (so healthy). She then looked me in the eyes and asked, “Do you want some help getting ready for Passover?”
Sitting at her kitchen table that morning, I learned many valuable tips that transformed my Passover cleaning and helped me reframe my attitude. Here is what I learned.
Separate the cleaning into stringent and light
The stringent cleaning areas are the rooms where we prepare food, cook and eat. In most homes, this is the kitchen and dining room. These rooms must be cleaned with utmost care as this is where we will mostly likely find chametz. (We are forbidden to own and eat chametz during Passover. It is defined as wheat, barley, spelt, rye or oat flour that has been mixed with water and has fermented before being baked. Fermentation takes 18 minutes.)
If food has not been brought into the living room, bedrooms, bathrooms or playroom, these places will only need a light cleaning. When I learned this valuable tip, my apartment shrank into a manageable size before my eyes.
You are not searching for tiny crumbs
When you clean, look for food products the size of a kezayit (approximately the size of a pretzel). This means searching the children’s backpacks, everyone’s jacket pockets and handbags, but does not entail turning every piece of clothing we own inside out and upside down.
Tape up the cupboards you are not using
You don’t have to clean every cupboard and shelf, especially if you won’t be using them over Passover. Just tape them shut and put up a sign as a reminder not to open them.
Use your dishwasher to store items
Since you will not be using your dishwasher over the holiday, turn it into storage. It’s a convenient place to keep plates, bowls, cups and cutlery that you will not be using over Pesach. Instead of packing dishes into boxes and hauling them away for the week, place them in the dishwasher.
If you are not enjoying the preparations, it is a sign to stop and do something fun. Go out for a walk, come back to your preparations refreshed and keep a smile on your face.
Remember that cleaning can be uplifting
Judaism always strives to make the mundane sacred. If we elevate physical acts like eating by making a blessing, then why not cleaning?
When we do ‘bedikat chametz,’ the traditional search for bread that is performed with a candle and feather, we are searching our inner selves. The wick of the candle represents our body, while the flame that always strives to aim upward is our soul. The bread (the chametz) is our own puffed up ego. It is our sense of self-importance that often blocks the soul.
So when we look in those deep, dark places for bread, we are searching our inner selves for our ego. When we find the chametz, we then burn it with the flame, symbolically purging ourselves of our ego and liberating our soul.
I was so inspired by my neighbor’s wisdom, I was suddenly ready to face my deep cleaning. I felt liberated in many ways and met that broom of mine as if it were an old friend.
When I focused on my life and thought about what enslaved me, my sweeping and scrubbing actually became meaningful. And as I searched for chametz and poured boiling water across my counters, I felt as if the external perfectly mirrored the internal. I was unearthing and scraping away my bad traits, revealing a gleaming new me underneath.
From this day, my Passover preparations became straightforward, positive and meaningful. With my home kashered in advance, I happily discovered that I actually had time to learn more about the holiday. While others swept in surround sound, scrubbed and scoured, I went to classes and soaked up some wisdom.
One of the names for Passover is ‘zman cheiruteinu,’ which means the time of our freedom. With a clean house, clarity and energy to spare, I felt as if I were truly partaking in the essence of this wonderful holiday.
Check out Nicole’s new novel, Let My RV Go!. Just released by Mosaica Press, it is a refreshing and humorous observation of a Jewish woman’s search for meaning. Ever had Passover in an RV? Hop aboard and celebrate with a twist.