I love cleaning for Pesach, but it wasn’t always that way. What was once a surface-level encounter has become a transformative experience.
Over the past 11 years of our almost two decades together, my husband and I have gradually adapted our lives to include more mitzvahs, and our observance of and preparation for the Festival of Freedom has increased as well.
In the week before the holiday this month, as I pulled almost-empty cereal bags and half-eaten chametz snacks from my pantry, tossing them into the trash was one of the most liberating feelings I have experienced.
My daughter was standing nearby as I announced how much I enjoy cleaning for Pesach, and it occurred to me how often we may hear people bemoan this annual occurrence. I was one of them.
Once we started becoming more religiously observant, some of the stringencies of Pesach and other holidays began to feel almost like a burden. As a busy mom of four with a couple of part-time jobs, it seemed like something that interfered with my responsibilities.
But this year it felt different. It helps that my children are getting older, and I no longer have babies or toddlers to tend. I also started preparing earlier, emptying closets of unneeded items while finding bits of not-kosher-for-Pesach foods hiding under beds, in pockets and in other random places.
My vigor for Pesach cleaning extended throughout the house and into the kitchen. For my husband and me and our kids, it was physically demanding work, lifting and sorting, cleaning and covering, and eventually cooking. And it felt good.
It is not physical preparedness alone, however, that is required of us, but also spiritual preparedness, according to Chabad.org. The physical and spiritual are linked, especially in the celebration of Shabbat and festivals. We are spiritual souls within physical bodies, sometimes working together in perfect unison — as when using our hands to light Shabbat candles, reciting a blessing out loud or removing the leaven from our homes for Pesach.
As the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, explained (and Chabad.org reports), it is essential for us to share the message of the holiday with our children — and to ensure that they receive a Jewish education.
In my day job, I meet many Russian refugees who were forbidden to receive a Jewish education or to practice any aspects of Judaism. As ambassadors for G-d on Earth — as a light unto the nations — what better target for hatred and darkness than the Jews?
Yet many families would sneak in their Judaism, going to great lengths just to ensure that their children knew who they were and that they were connected to G-d through mitzvahs.
Here in the United States, growing up as a secular Jew, I saw how fascinating it was that we had every right and freedom to fully practice our religion with enthusiasm and pride. Yet so many of us took that freedom for granted.
I read recently that we have come so far from the holiness of our ancestors that in some cases all that is needed from someone in this lifetime is to simply change a habit. So much beauty and meaning, love and light, are just waiting to be revealed.
Sometimes it just takes a slight scratching of the surface for that light within to come shining through.
Chag kasher v’sameach: happy and kosher Pesach.