Cleaning and Loving It

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

3 thoughts on “Cleaning and Loving It”

  1. I wish that I knew how to begin to clean for Passover. I am a Christian and have been single for a long time. I work Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings and I am off on Saturday and Sunday, but if I don’t finish cleaning on Saturday (which it is likely that I won’t be able to do it all in one day), then Sunday I am at church and Monday is here before you know it. Growing up we had an orderly home, my mother did work, but her mother lived with us and did much of the cooking and cleaning. I don’t know how to cope with working the evening shift and holidays turn into cleaning nightmares for me. But, I guess that Passover is a family thing and if you are, as I am, single, then you should just go somewhere to be with people who are celebrating? I don’t know….

  2. Dear Rabbi Lapin, what a fine piece! Thank you for reminding us that we are to worship God, the nameless and invisible one who cannot be described, captured or confined in a figurine of clay or of metal, and would have us free. The most current and ever-present danger is the programmed worship of Big Government. They would enslave us all, tell us how to live, how much money to make, and when we can all lie down and die.
    Ms. Susan, your piece reminds me of tales of my grandmother. Although I never met her, I was told she was a Putzteufel, so obsessed with cleanliness that she sterilized every doorknob with carbolic acid cleanser after the visit of every stranger. And particularly in the spring, when the burst of new life called for a purging of winter’s dregs, she would cleanse more things than people today could imagine. Whether it is the Passover, the burst of new life into the world, the entry of the sun into the sign of the Ram or whatever, the clarion shofar call arouses us to life anew. Wishing you and the Rabbi a blessed Passover!

  3. Unlike you, even Passover cleaning I could do without if possible. I would be happy to give it to the men if only they would do it right. My husband rolls his eyes and grumbles when I ask him to help me move out the refrigerator and oven so I can clean underneath. And if I let him do the pantry I’d never find anything again. The best thing about Passover cleaning is having it done!

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