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 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?

Let me goLet Me Go: How to Overcome Life’s Challenges and Escape Your Own Egypt

9 thoughts on “Cleaning and Loving It”

  1. My Mother is a “clean” freak
    Her calling in life is to make sure things are tidy and ordered and organized. She gets great satisfaction from making order out of chaos. If she doesn’t have such to do, she is unfulfilled
    From the New Testament – she is Martha – behind the scenes doing.
    Susan, perhaps you and my Mother can work a deal during Passover? 🙂 She “lives” to do those tasks- that is her gift – Her offering to the Lord –
    Appreciate you and your insights very much
    Blessings to you

  2. Your musing highlights a critical difference between the male and the female. Men will seldom understand or fathom the woman’s instinct to clean. And left to his own devices, a house husband will never, ever clean up to a woman’s standards or satisfaction. Add to that the appearance of green buds, and the woman goes near-berserk in out-with-the-old.
    Tales of the ‘old days’ recount how my maternal grandmother was like you, only much more obsessive. She had sharpened cleaning instincts all year round. Whenever a strange person entered the house she would cauterize all the doorknobs with a carbolic acid disinfectant. In the springtime she became especially obsessed, consuming gallons and gallons of water. She even dosed all her children with calomel as a springtime purgative. It worked, as her children remember with revulsion. It is painful and it evokes righteous horror today to imagine dosing a child with a mercury salt, no matter how insoluble. Your Musing makes me wonder if her vernal cleaning imperative derives from religious zeal misplaced from honoring a certain holiday, if you know what I mean.
    Gotta go mop the floor! You guys have a blessed Pessach!

  3. It is all rather complex. I lock away all food that is used year round and has been around the kitchen (like sugar) even though I buy some of the same food for Passover. Leavened products I use up as much as possible and if there is anything left that is too much of a loss to give away, I lock it away and sell that closet to a non-Jew. It’s a very complex holiday – and my favorite one of the year.

  4. Maybe where my Mom and Grandma got obsession with “Spring Cleaning” Me too , even though we are Christians it never feels right until every corner has been scrubbed and brought into daylight for disinfecting purposes . Then when I learned the Passover connection between sin ( symbolically I think ) and cleaning , it just intensifies the whole process.I try now to start in January and do a room every week or so , But that does NOT have the right feeling of everything gone over in 3 or 4 intense days of cleaning hysteria … and it all feels so wonderful when it is over with !!!!

  5. “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.”
    I read this post years ago, and I also have a deeply profound connection with my grandmother in a similar way. Thanks for sharing it again!

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