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 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 preparation to anyone who has never experienced it. 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 been teachers away at Passover retreats at a hotel, I only 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 is always, “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.

If you have read this far, I will share that I originally wrote this Musing in 2009. The sentiment remains. However, this year, I gained an additional insight. Ancient Jewish wisdom tells us, “In the merit of righteous women we were redeemed from Egypt.” While the midwives, Shifra and Puah disobeyed Pharaoh’s command to slaughter newborn boys, while Miriam watched over baby Moses, and while Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him, those are not the only examples cited as the referenced righteous behavior.

The highlighted righteous behavior was the women keeping alive hope and optimism that redemption would come. How did they do this? Despite the degradation and exhaustion of slavery, the women put smiles on their faces, beautified themselves, and seduced their husbands. They were the ones who ensured that there would be future generations, even as the culture attempted to strip masculinity from the men and femininity from the women. So sure were the women that God would redeem them, that when they left Egypt in a hurry they had tambourines and musical instruments at the ready for that great day. These were used after crossing the Reed Sea.

One of the tragedies of our day is that women have joined men in devaluing sex, marriage and motherhood. Women have succumbed to the fear and anxiety peddled by our culture. What Pharaoh did not achieve has become today’s reality. As we eagerly anticipate another great redemption, it is imperative that righteous women once again lead the way.


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