I’m in the thick of it: degreasers, cleansers, sponges, water, toothpicks. The intention of Passover cleaning is to rid the house of all chametz, chametz being the Hebrew word for leavened food. Over the years I have actually come to welcome what might seem obsessive or astoundingly bothersome to some. Pesach cleaning is intense. It is physically demanding. Every drawer must be taken out, scrubbed and cleaned. New drawer liners. Drawer hinges cleaned. Crevices tended to with toothpicks. Microwaves, dishwashers, ovens down to their racks and gaskets receive their due. Ditto the fridge. And don’t forget the counters. For some the ritual is a good wiping down. Others pour boiling water. I’ve heard of temporary countertops fitted and placed over year-round ones. As with any religion’s traditions and dictates, normal is what you do; obsessive is what others do that is more than you do; slacker is what others do that is less than you do.
But oh, the satisfaction of knowing you have done your level best. Grime that might (OK does) escape regular cleaning eleven months of the year, is sought out and banished (three cheers for Krud Kutter.) Some crazy meals are at hand as I try to use up the last bits of oatmeal, flour, pasta. The rest will be set aside and not used or even seen during Passover. Through an intermediary, most often the rabbi or the rabbi’s assigned representative, Jews can choose to sell their chametz. The seller receives an amount of money, really a down payment, with the balance to be paid at the end of Pesach if the buyer wants the sale to be finalized.
“OK, Debra,” you ask, “we get the Krud Cutter, the sponges and even the toothpicks. But what’s up with the cowboy boots? Are they chametz, too?” No, and here’s where the spirtual side of chametz cleaning comes in. With so much time devoted to it, cleaning out the chametz becomes a metaphor for reckoning with the ego—the puffed up yeasty parts of us that merit a bit of scouring as well.
I recently received my second vaccine. Heading to TJ’s a few days later, I felt like dressing up: jeans, a tucked-in shirt, and a belt. For the first time in a year, I pulled on my cowboy boots. I love my cowboy boots. I have two pair—low black ones and a tall pair of red ones. I love how I feel in them. Tall, rangy, powerful. In my boots, my body might be in Michigan, but my spirit is back in red rock country. Shoes are for walking; boots are for strutting.
By the time I’d completed my shopping and accepting a “great boots,” comment from the cashier, I was feeling pretty high on the horse. Heels hitting the pavement, I caught myself in the act of being too caught up with my self. It felt great to be out, to be doing something “normal.” Wearing my boots once again, I felt something I hadn’t felt for twelve months. Maybe it was simply exuberance. Maybe it was something less benign—a puffed up ego. Chametz.
My husband and I went somewhere later that day. My boots were still in the kitchen where I’d taken them off. I put on my sneakers. As we walked, I was conscious of being closer to the ground, connecting with earth instead of ego. I’m not giving away my boots. I look forward to wearing them again. And again and again. Next time, however, I’ll remember that like rising bread, the ego sometimes needs a bit of punching down.
Whether your tradition is spring cleaning, Passover cleaning, or Easter cleaning, get yourself some Krud Kutter and have at it! As for cowboy boots, I know a great place to get them if you have the urge.
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Leaven is out, but levity? Always welcome. Here are links to two videos that will get you laughing, or at least smiling, no matter what.
Vocabulary: mishkan (the Holy Ark that held the tablets); mitzvah (literally a commandment, usually understood to be a good deed);
dayenu (eponymous song meaning it would have been enough); chag sameach (happy holiday)
Our rabbi rocks!