Every time I clean, something gets dirty.
I do 10 loads of laundry, and the minute I’ve folded the last pair of jeans, hung the last shirt (and immediately made the beds because folding a fitted sheet, no matter how many times you’ve asked your mother, no matter how many YouTube videos and life hacks you’ve watched, that particular skill just escapes you even now), there suddenly appears five socks and a wash cloth. I wash dishes, and as I’m drying my hands, my son slips a fork into the sink.
Yet I still have to do it. Even when I blink and find another six loads in the basket, there is something so incredibly satisfying about cleaning. I feel so accomplished, like I should get a round of applause or a medal. At least a gold star, right?
So why is it that I have such a hard time getting into the Passover cleaning frenzy? So many of my friends seem to have such a healthy love-hate relationship with this ritual. I have a hard time just wrapping my head around it. I grew up a deeply superficial Jew. In our family, holidays were less about commandments and God, and much more about the menu. They were joyous affairs, and there was even an occasional prayer that tumbled out, as if by accidental embarrassment, but as with so much else, we tended to skip over the nitty-gritty detail with alacrity.
So, Passover meant a last minute trip to the grocery store to find an elusive shank bone, moving the bread to the other side of the shelf to make room for the matzah, a kitchen that smelled of dill and roasting brisket and heat, and a makeshift seder plate (who knew you needed a seder plate every year?). While we managed to pull off most of a seder while my grandparents were around, once they were gone, Passover became a wonderful excuse to dust off the soup pot and overtax the refrigerator. We played at a seder, we didn’t participate in one.
There was no cleaning, other than the normal cleaning done by the housekeeper before guests came to the house. We didn’t switch dishes. I could mostly guarantee that we’d at least make it through the two seders without eating bread (we didn’t know from hametz (leavened bread), so I wouldn’t swear by anything there).
I’d love to claim my puzzlement with the whole concept of cleaning for Passover is the result of my mostly secular upbringing. That would be awesome. And wrong. I’ve become more and more observant over time. I’ve delved into my Judaism with joy and intention. I’m devoted in faith, leading and attending services so regularly that I use my siddur (prayer book) mostly so that I have something to do with my hands, serving as Cantorial soloist and lay leader, lovingly chanting Torah and haftarah every chance I get, teaching and tutoring and studying and still craving more. And I do this all—the outward and inward practice of my Judaism—because I am a Jew, and this is what I have come to believe it means for me to be a Jew. It’s not for show, it’s not because I read it in a book, or I’m searching to fill some spiritual void.
Passover is my favorite holiday. With its themes of redemption and freedom and faith, how could it not be? So why? Why the hell not dive in here, clean my kitchen, cleanse my home and—by extension—my spirit, and prepare, at last, for miracles and wonder?
Is this my last stand? The last vestige of misplaced defiance—“I’ll show you, God! Ha!”? For the last couple of years, I would stare at the pantry, rearrange the dishes in my head, make vague promises to no one in particular: This is the year. Last year, I even set a date to clean the cabinets, get rid of the hametz, but gave up pretty quickly—why clean when I would merely put the same dishes back into their same places, and the same food, including all my bread and pasta, in the same pantry, just on a different, separate shelf?
Or is it less religious petulance and more just laziness on my part, because the task, metaphorical and tactical, is so huge?
Will this be the year that I dive in for real? That I plunge into the complex task of kashering my kitchen? Will I finally concede this wrestling match and just (as they say) do it? I have done daunting before—sometimes willingly, sometimes not. The results vary, as does the reward (not that I do it for a reward, but gold stars are always nice, metaphorical or not). The point is, I can do daunting. Do I dare? Do I take the leap?
Life gets messy; it’s time to clean it up.