I once attended a class on Passover preparation taught by a rabbi who told his all-female audience that outside of the kitchen, the entire search for chametz should take no longer than one hour, tops. This was a rabbi, mind you, speaking to women who had been going mano-a-mano (so to speak) with the business side of a scrubbing sponge for days. He was never seen or heard from again, undoubtedly whisked away into the Kosher Witness Protection Program by colleagues who feared for his life.
Was the rabbi right? Who knows? Who cares? Despite his black velvet hat and dangling tzitzit, his words were sacrilege. Most traditional Jewish women I know are hard-wired not to consider their homes completely kosher for Passover unless they have been scrubbed and polished to within one matzah’s thickness of their lives.
Gripe though I might, I secretly enjoy the Passover hustle.
Gripe though I might, I secretly enjoy the Passover hustle. It’s not that I’m a clean freak, but honestly, if I don’t give this place a working-over before Passover, by the time Yom Kippur rolls around, I’ll have to strike the left side of my chest several extra times, confessing, “And for the sin of not getting rid of those shoes that always squeezed my little toes and giving them to Goodwill, and for the sin of allowing the dust bunnies in the closet to multiply like rabbits, spiking allergies in the entire family...”
I admit to being a card-carrying member of the great Jewish sisterhood that intentionally wields a bottle of environmentally friendly, all-purpose cleaner throughout every nook and cranny of the house, spraying with abandon. Yes, I am knowingly conflating spring cleaning with Passover cleaning, but why not? Don’t professional organizers preach about how liberating it is to whittle down our material possessions? And don’t we Jews like to prove that we are right by asking incessant questions?
This year, I plan to liberate an entire drawer full of useless, antiquated cassette tapes that I’ve finally acknowledged I will never bring in to transfer to any digital format. Yes, I’m preparing to liberate myself from my personal Egypt of too much stuff, and if I can do that while listening to a good Passover class on my iPod, I will feel even better about the effort.
Borderline Neurotic Tradition
I also convince myself that cleaning for Passover is a great way to build muscles, as evidenced by my pectoral muscles that are screaming silently, “Hey, give us a break! How many heavy loads of old books and ancient clothes do you think we can carry from the house to the car to the thrift store in one day?”
And truthfully, I harbor the lingering hope that I will enjoy my own personal Passover miracle and find treasures that have gone missing the year before. This year, I am praying that I uncover, under a recalcitrant dust bunny, an enameled pendant that disappeared a few years ago. I ask God, “I know you are probably busy with other things, such as making sure the sun rises and sets every day and also preventing this chaotic world from disintegrating into total anarchy, but if it’s not too much trouble, I’d really appreciate finding that pendant. I had to put it on layaway to even afford it! I promise to tell everyone at the Seder that You helped me find it.”
If my gambit doesn’t work, I’ll know that either a) I really should not playing let’s-make-a-deal with the Almighty, or b) that I need to up the ante next year.
“I brought beer!” he announced, hoisting a 12-pack.
Even if you’re like me, following in that admittedly borderline neurotic tradition of spending weeks with your hand on the trigger of an environmentally friendly all-purpose cleanser bottle, you must remain alert for sabotage. A few years ago, on the first night of Passover, our house in pristine, chametz-free condition, we welcomed my father-in-law and his wife over to the Seder. It’s a good thing I decided to meet them out on our front porch, as my father-in-law, he should rest in peace, had brought us a gift.
“I brought beer!” he announced, hoisting a 12-pack to show me. I don’t know if he could see the color drain from my face in the moonlight, but he couldn’t mistake the tone in my voice as I firmly (yet respectfully) insisted that he leave the chametzdik beer outside. He shrugged, probably chalking up my reaction to one of the other mysteries of the way his daughter-in-law ran her house. I know he meant well, but ever since that night I’ve had no choice but to check our guests’ gifts at the door — just in case.
I actually feel sorry for that rabbi who insisted that Passover cleaning outside the kitchen only takes an hour and then “dayenu,” beyond the fact that he’s probably hiding out in the stockroom of an electronics store in Flatbush. With an attitude like his, I’d bet my box of handmade matzah that he won’t enjoy Passover like I enjoy Passover. Until you’ve rolled up your sleeves and boldly waded into your overstuffed closet until it splits like the Red Sea and you can see the other side, you miss experiencing the exodus from material overload to more of the essentials, thinking about what you really need. And isn’t that part of what Passover is all about?