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The Joys (?) of Passover Cleaning

May 8, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

It is possible not only to enjoy Passover cleaning, but to find it to be the most meaningful aspect of holiday preparation.

"I got the Here-Comes-Pesach blues," sings Moshe Yess.

Everywhere I turn I hear:

  • "Have you started cleaning yet?"
  • "I'm so stressed."
  • "We're going away to a hotel this year. I just can't face the cleaning."

I'm beginning to feel like an endangered species, because I like Passover. It's actually my favorite holiday. I enjoy the cleaning –- I love throwing things out (if my husband hasn't worn it in a year, make that a week, watch out!) and getting organized. And I like the cooking. I like the creative challenge inherent in the limited ingredients. I like the constant phone calls between friends, sharing new recipes and old stand-bys.

I like the community of Jewish women scrubbing our homes, grocery shopping, cooking, grocery shopping, making menus, grocery shopping ... and just when you think you have everything you need ... grocery shopping.

I like the exhaustion -- not out of some masochism but because it's also a link to other Jewish women.

And I like the exhaustion. Not out of some masochism but because it's also a link. When I look in the eyes of my friends and other Jewish women in the neighborhood I see the same weary expression. It's a look that says, "I can't do one more thing." And it's a look that says, "I'm proud of what I've accomplished." And it's a look that says, "We're in this together. We're a community."

I've had four children who were due to be born Erev Pesach, the day before Pesach (the Almighty's sense of humor). Finally with number 3, I admitted to some physical stress and fatigue and suggested we try going away for the holiday.

There was an event at a rustic wood-studded location near here. I thought, "This is my chance. Every other year I'm so busy cleaning and cooking (and grocery shopping) that I have little time to apply myself intellectually, but this is my chance to really delve into all the ideas and commentaries in the Haggadah. This year I can do it. This year I'll be prepared."


And I learned an important lesson. Studying the ideas underlying Passover was not the true preparation. It was the hours of cleaning, the hours in the kitchen, and the hours at the grocery store(s). It was the physical effort that led to the emotional and intellectual preparation. I felt less prepared when I didn't take out my special dishes, when I didn't clean my children's bedrooms (after all, it's been a year!), when I didn't make my chicken soup and cabbage soup and famous (doesn't taste like Passover) brownies.

And I felt more alone. That crucial link to other Jewish women was not being forged. I had no war stories or battle wounds to share. I hadn't planned any creative menus and my Passover cookbooks were neatly packed away.

I had more energy, but I was disappointed. I missed the exhaustion borne of accomplishment. I missed the weariness shared across the globe.

I missed involving my children in an important and meaningful mitzvah.

And I missed involving my children in an important and meaningful mitzvah. (I also missed yelling at them about dropping crumbs all over the house!)

So, much as I would like a vacation, as tempting as some events sound, I've returned to what I enjoy.

I can't wait to start cleaning. (I force myself to hold out until after Purim, putting some limits on my compulsivity.) I can't wait to start planning menus and discovering new treasures. I'm excited to bring out my Passover dishes. (When I read that you should use your most beautiful tableware for this holiday I decided this was a mitzvah I wanted to be very strict about!) I can't wait to start cooking huge quantities in anticipation of many guests.

And I can't wait to sit down at the Seder prepared for the event, feeling the pride of being a Jewish woman linked to other Jewish women, and taking pleasure in being part of a nation redeemed by the Almighty from slavery (all jokes about the connection between Pesach cleaning and slavery are prohibited!)

A happy and healthy Passover to all.

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