What’s all this spring cleaning about?
Passover starts this evening at sundown. Jewish families have been preparing for this holiday for weeks, if not months. In commemoration of the unleavened dough the Israelites took out of Egypt when fleeing on a moment’s notice, we have an obligation to rid our homes of “chametz,” i.e., leavened or fermented foods that primarily derive from five species of grain. So, not only do we remove all of the bread, crackers, pasta, and dough from our homes, we clean rigorously to eliminate any lurking crumb of chametz, that is ready to pounce into our mouths. So we wipe, vacuum, wash, dust, and generally go mad, rousting chametz from our homes. I can’t prove it, but I think searching for chametz established the basis for spring cleaning.
Chametz symbolizes the opposite of humility. A person puffed up from his own grandeur cannot connect spiritually to others or his Creator. The Passover seder uses many symbols to prod us to think deeply. The ceremonial meal is built around a seder plate. Questions are encouraged, and no question is too stupid. We use symbols and explanations to craft a memorable description of what happened to our ancestors. But why all the fuss about chametz?
When the Jews left Egypt, they were just beginning their journey to worship G-d. They needed to focus solely on their objective, which was to reach Mount Sinai and accept the Torah. Any thought of themselves, any self-consciousness or self-regard, would have hampered them in their ability to achieve their goal. To receive the Torah, they needed to let go of their own egos entirely, to give themselves over completely to G-d.(1)
Matzah is flat, poor bread, consisting of nothing but flour and water. It is humble. The dough didn’t have time to rise as the Israelites fled their homes in Egypt, their houses of bondage.
Today we task ourselves with very stringent requirements to prepare ourselves spiritually for the holiday and celebrate with the seder meal. Because we are human, we tend to focus on the preparations and not on what we’re preparing for. We’re getting ready to relive the Exodus: our freedom from bondage in Egypt leading to the giving of the Torah.
It is incumbent upon us to remember that we were delivered from slavery. It is vital to recognize and praise the One Who freed us. Two books of the Bible, Exodus (Shemos
) and Deuteronomy (D’varim
), detail the deliverance of the Israelites. Though this historical event happened to our forefathers, we still recount the story and teach it to our children year by year at the seder. How do I know it’s true? I heard it from my grandfather who heard it from his grandfather, and so on, and so on.
I could make myself crazy with cleaning. The drapes–no chametz there–the window screens, the bathtub. I could run around like a nut, Formula 409™ spray bottle in one hand and feather duster in the other, to clean the house. Or, I can rid my home of chametz from the usual places where we eat or trail crumbs. Since I don’t have small children broadcasting Cheerios all around, I can forget about the area under the radiator. I don’t have to dust the tops of the 6-foot tall bookcases. It’s all a matter of perspective. Spring cleaning or Passover preparation?
The cleaning can be a type of bondage in itself if we don’t see the connection to our freedom. For it is not spring cleaning that we should be doing. Certainly, we should be searching for the chametz in our homes, but it is equally important to rid ourselves of the “chametz” in our hearts and deflate our egos so that we can truly feel as though each of us, individually, had been taken out of Egypt him- or herself.
Tonight I shall raise my four cups of wine in praise, reliving how we fled from Egypt and were saved by the Almighty. I am free from slavery… and free from the bondage of spring cleaning!
Have a happy, kosher Passover!
(1.) “Puffed Up.” Chabad of Central NJ, Accessed April 3, 2015.