A few years ago, there was a reality television show called “Doomsday Preppers,” which profiled families that were stockpiling supplies in preparation for natural disasters and other worst-case scenarios. I never watched the show, but it was pretty clear from the buzz about it that these folks were going well beyond what most people consider to be reasonable preparations for adverse events.
Because preparing for Pesach (Passover) can have its own extreme elements, my husband and I have taken to joking in recent years that we are Pesach Preppers, though the stash of matza, potato starch and kosher for Passover chocolate (necessities, people!) that has been gathering in my basement in recent weeks more closely resembles a well-stocked pantry than an apocalyptic bunker.
The cleaning process we typically employ is not extreme in the least — we focus on removing chametz (leaven) from the areas where it is prepared and eaten, and just making the rest of the house generally clean, checking for hidden bits of food as we go. This process does, however, take time.
While I love it that there are guides for cleaning for Pesach in one day, and I believe it is truly possible to do that, the reality of my home is that it just takes longer. Here are the reasons why:
I tend to accumulate clutter, and procrastinate cleaning and organizing. While clutter is not chametz, I make a concerted effort in the weeks before Pesach to make things more orderly, and to toss or give way things we no longer need. I don’t do this *only* in the weeks before Pesach — we try to do some serious clutter reduction at least a few times a year — but Pesach inspires me to do more, and I am sure this is correlated strongly with the warmer weather and longer days, which inspire many people to clean things out.
I fully acknowledge that much of this cleaning and organizing is spring cleaning and not related to removing chametz from my home. I give credit to those who are more organized than me throughout the year, and therefore don’t end up falling behind. For me, the annual process of going through the house and getting rid of stuff is not a substitute for reducing clutter at other times, but the inspiration to do a better job of managing clutter all the time. There are times throughout the year that I literally say to myself, “I better deal with this now, or I will have to deal with it before Pesach.”
I firmly believe that this accountability has gradually increased my ability to do a better job of managing clutter year-round, not that you could tell by looking at my house right now.
Finally, I do all of this because I want my home to look and feel clean for at least the first hour or two of the holiday, before the dining room table and floor get covered by matza crumbs and it looks like I never cleaned anything. There’s nothing quite like a cleaned and ready for Passover home. It looks good, it smells good, it feels good to be there. It’s the goal that keeps me going.
According to Jewish tradition, one month before each of the major holidays, we begin to study the laws of the holiday and initiate preparations. In this vein, the 30 days before Pesach are a month-long spiritual process which includes planning, shopping, cleaning, kashering and cooking. In a home that is cleaner and better organized than mine, the process may take much less time, but I need a month to gradually prepare for the holiday. During this month, the holiday is always in the back of my mind and, except for the big push to kasher the kitchen in the last few days before the holiday, the tasks are spread out enough that they aren’t too onerous.
I firmly believe that preparations for Pesach should not be so burdensome that they make people resentful of the holiday and of Judaism itself. On the other hand, most worthwhile enterprises in life require significant effort, and Pesach is no exception.
I’ll be the first to admit that Pesach is stressful. It’s exhausting. But it’s also incredibly rewarding, and the memorable qualities of the holiday are not tied up just in observing the rituals for eight days (seven in Israel), but in the month of preparation and anticipation.
I don’t clean for Pesach in just one day, because I would find that too exhausting. By spreading out tasks, and doing them gradually, the process for me is less stressful and more rewarding. I realized this year that I no longer feel overwhelmed by Pesach. I know I can do it. I want to do it, and the payoff for all of this effort will be a wonderful holiday which I love and look forward to each year, and which I hope my children will also love throughout their lives.
For an excellent essay about cleaning for Pesach in one day, check this out:
For a good laugh about cleaning for Pesach, check this out: