What Type of Pesach Cleaner are You?

by Tehillah Hessler on March 5, 2013

Cleaning items in bucket isolated on whiteLast week’s Mishpacha’s Family First Magazine had an article with Pesach cleaning advice (which overwhelmed me) and I was amused by the Editor’s confession that as a working mother she doesn’t try to keep up with her neighbor’s professional-level efforts (I’m sorry I can’t quote exactly because I gave the magazine to a friend for Shabbat reading).

This prompted a chat with a few friends during which I learned that some begin what they consider to be Pesach cleaning right after Tu B’Shvat, while others with small children don’t bother trying until a week before Pesach.  I don’t have small children around the house anymore - I do have a dog (does that count?) – but I’m still of the let’s not overdo this variety.

By nature I’m a planner; I prepare checklists and project plans for just about everything in my personal and professional life (and Hash-m laughs) so why don’t I wear myself out weeks in advance like so many other women?

I grew up in a mainly non-Jewish neighborhood among women who began their heroic Spring cleaning efforts the day the snow started melting and/or the temperature was warm enough for open windows.  My mother (a.k.a. Mrs. Clean), not to be outdone, chimed in with gusto always followed by her white glove inspections.  I still have nightmares of scraping wax off of floor tile with a paint scraper, washing in between the rungs of radiators with disinfectant, scrubbing window screens in the bathtub with a (probably toxic) blend of Clorox and Ajax, washing stairs and walls using Mr. Clean with a scrub brush and even cleansing the driveway with a push broom, powdered soap and a hose!   The scent of Lysol has been the trigger of many an anxiety attack – I’m scarred for life and have cleaning chemical allergies to prove it!

When I moved into my first frum neighborhood (as an adult) I pleaded with a Rav for an exemption after witnessing my previously sane neighbors’ transformation into “Mrs. Clean” the day after Purim!  I was petrified that my decision to take on the mitzvoth had been a grave mistake. Would I really be required to clean every inch of my 2100 square foot home plus the garage, cars and yard to ensure that we had no chometz in our possession?!

I was more than willing to leave the house for those 8 days and camp out in the wilderness somewhere with only matza and wine if necessary, but the thought of cleaning my house to my mother’s standards – or subject to my neighbor’s scrutiny – while working and commuting 50 hours per week with no vacation days banked for use that year put me on the brink of a breakdown.

My dear Rav educated me on one of the finer loopholes of Judaism – “clean only the areas you’ll be using and items you need to use and sell everything else to a goy until the day after Pesach”!  Having not grown up in isolation, I couldn’t imagine 1) how any Jew would trust a non-Jew with all their worldly possessions (and all for a symbolic transaction of a  few dollars!) or 2) how such a deal could be acceptable under Jewish law.  When Moshe led Bnei Israel out of Mitzrayim, didn’t they leave with all their worldly possessions?   Wasn’t Pesach supposed to remind us of that period in Jewish history?  So I did what I often do at work – research!  Studying the source of this insane behavior and halacha helped us realize that our only obligation is the eradication of chometz in our home and that does not mean goyish Spring cleaning!

To make even this chore a little more tolerable, we formed our own tradition:
- restrict food to certain areas of the house year-round
- thoroughly clean only those areas
- eat or dispose of any remaining chometz
- lock the cabinets containing any kitchen items used in the preparation of chometz foods that couldn’t be kashered for Pesach.
- nullify any hidden remaining chometz

Living in Israel has made this all much simpler because we don’t have space for a large number of Pesach items to be stored away, so we no longer “turn over” the kitchen, instead we “camp out” using disposables and kasher our stainless steel pots and utensils.  We also change toothbrushes that week and have found that we’re happy with kosher-le-Pesach toothpaste so we use it year-round too.

I’m not condemning anyone who wants to put themselves through Spring cleaning, I just caution you to not inflict your minhagim on newcomers because it could (chas v’shalom) drive them further away from the mitzvoth and their fellow Jews.

Spring Cleaning is not required for eradication of chometz.

The ban on Kitniyot is not Jewish law – it’s a minhag from the galut of Europe that Ashkenazim have clung to and taken with them to other lands. It is a minhag that began long before modern food processing, inspection and kashruth supervision. And most important, it’s a minhag that can lead to the type of separation that is intended to exist between Jew and gentile, to exist between Jews (e.g., when one Jew refuses to eat at another Jew’s table because he possesses rice!  No exaggeration, this once happened to me while I was still in exile).

Ignorance has separated Jews for too many generations. I urge you to learn the sources of your minhagim especially if you live, or are planning to live, in Israel.  Please don’t bring the ways of the nations – or fences erected to protect you while living galut – into our Holy land where we should be living according to Torah.

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