I have a friend who gets little pleasure from cooking. It is a reality of life for her rather than a tactile, sensual experience. That is, unless she is cooking for the Sabbath. When she does that, the activity is infused with meaning and importance and changes from an annoying necessity into a higher calling.
I feel somewhat the same about cleaning. While I like having a tidy and well-ordered house, I can’t say that I enjoy the process of scrubbing and polishing. The exception is when I am cleaning in preparation for Passover.
I don’t really have a way to explain Passover preparations to anyone who has not been involved in them. Picture getting ready for Thanksgiving except before you can start your cooking you need to get rid of all the existing food you have in the house as well as put away all your dishes and kitchen utensils, and bring in all “special for Thanksgiving” items that are only used once a year. There are lists of ingredients and products that you ordinarily rely on that can’t be used. Plus, the house needs to be cleaned from top to bottom to ensure that no forbidden items are hiding away. That’s for starters. Oh yes, and there will be eight days of eating rather than one, with five of them requiring festive meals twice a day.
Passover is daunting. It is also my favorite holiday of the year. And while we have occasionally spent the holiday at the home of friends or family and sometimes even at a hotel, I only truly fully feel the holiday spirit when we are home. On all the holidays, recipes and traditions connect me strongly to my mother, grandmother and all the women in my family who preceded them, but the connection is magnified with Passover.
My husband does not understand. His mantra over these weeks is, “You really don’t have to do that,” meaning that we can have a kosher Passover without my going over the light switches with a toothbrush and toothpick. He does not have, as I do, the vision of my grandmother in her eighties, wearing her one and only pair of jeans, purchased and used for only one occasion in the entire year – getting down on the floor to scrub under the cupboards before Passover. I can’t explain it myself. I only know that, in my mind, while cleaning is usually a chore that interferes with “more important things,” during the weeks preceding Passover it gives me a great thrill. Not only am I cleaning for a higher purpose, but the activity itself has meaning.
And quite frankly, I am pretty uninterested in what the rabbis (even my own beloved one) say as to what is unnecessary. My question to them always is, “But, what did your mother do?” Invariably, the answer is that they went way overboard. Passover belongs to the Jewish people, but Passover cleaning belongs to Jewish women.
Reprinted from March 2009
Would you like to look more deeply into Passover?
What if it can serve as a personal template for redemption as well as a national one?