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 usually enjoy the process of
scrubbing and polishing. The exception is when I am cleaning in preparation for
I really don’t 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 26, 2009