Clean, Cleaner, and Cleanest

I have a friend who gets very little pleasure from cooking. It is a necessity of life for her rather than a tactile, sensual experience. That is, unless she is cooking for the Sabbath. When she cooks Shabbat meals for her family and friends, the activity is infused with meaning and evolves from being an annoying necessity into a meaningful expression of her soul.

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 advance of Passover.

I don’t have a way to explain Passover preparations to anyone who has not been involved in them. Spring cleaning doesn’t begin to cover it. Picture getting ready for Thanksgiving except before you can start cooking you need to get rid of most of the existing food you have in the house as well as put away all your dishes and kitchen utensils. Then you would need to bring in from the garage or storage area, all “special for Thanksgiving” kitchenware and dishes that are only used for one week a year. There are the year-round lists of kosher ingredients and products that you ordinarily rely on that can’t be used on Passover. Furthermore, 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 as guests of friends or family and sometimes even as speakers and teachers at a Passover retreat program at a hotel, I only truly fully feel the holiday spirit when we are home. Each of the year’s holiday recipes and traditions connect me strongly to my mother, grandmother, and all the women in my family who preceded me, but the connection is magnified with Passover.

My husband, for all his many admirable traits, simply does not understand the intense house cleaning that I personally do. 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 makes me joyous.

The disagreement between my husband and myself as to what cleaning is necessary to do for a kosher Passover and what is not required, is echoed in numerous homes this time of year. I am not the only woman who is happy to listen to experienced and learned rabbinical authorities throughout the year (especially when they are making things easier for us!), but who smile and ignore their attempts to relieve our workload before this festival.

The question that really matters this time of year is, “What did your mother do?” Invariably, for those of us fortunate to have grown up in religiously observant homes, the answer is that our mothers went way overboard. Passover belongs to the Jewish people, but Passover cleaning belongs to Jewish women.

This Musing is written with prayers that this Passover should be a time of ultimate redemption for God’s children, a time of comfort for the thousands who will be missing loved ones at their tables this year, and a time when the words we say on Passover each year, “In each and every generation there are those who rise up to wipe us out, and the Holy One saves us from their hands,” will be abundantly evident to all.

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