Pesach Cleaning or OCD?

It’s that time of year again. By the time Passover rolls around, many a woman will sit at the Seder table with calloused hands. Men meanwhile will find the mounting pile of paperwork at the office over these next few weeks a welcoming sight. Of course no one has benefitted more Pesach cleaning than the tourist industry. For many, the enticement of not having to lift a finger makes the cost more than worthwhile. Crete to the Congo you can find a five-star Pesach experience virtually any in the world today. The food may not be Mama’s recipe, and sharing a dining-room with nine hundred people singing Vehi Sheamda in a variation of six different tunes – simultaneously, may not be as atmospheric as being surrounded by the warmth of family in the privacy of one’s own home; but it still ensures that tender hearts don’t start palpitating at the sight of Mr Muscle, Flash or Domestos.

No leavened matter shall be seen throughout your property. This is the one verse that transforms clean conscientious housewives into OCD on the verge of a breakdown. I know some women who go scrubbing in cupboards before Passover which hadn’t been opened since, well the last time it was cleaned, before the previous Passover. My dear mother displays more energy in her fastidious Pesach cleaning than Australian Emma Snowsill did when winning gold in the 2008 Beijing Triathlon. When we were younger there was perhaps always the risk that we would take food into the playroom in the basement. The last of my siblings moved out of home twelve years ago. That playroom hasn’t seen a morsel in all that time. Still, attention to detail in every nook and cranny of that room is no less today than it was back then.

I’ve spoken in the past on how Pesach has such a hold on history and why we are driven to such punctilious observance. It is precisely the ritual aspects of Pesach that has preserved the importance and intensity of the holiday so well. All the cleaning and scrubbing, the change of diet and habit is precisely what has so emblazoned Pesach on the Jewish psyche so that we always remember the birth of our nation. Indeed many non-observant Jews will run a mile a breadcrumb during the eight days. But I want to go on the record to say, Pesach cleaning is not spring cleaning and it is precisely the over-obsessiveness that risks turning one of our most exciting festivals into a dreaded experience. It’s almost as though we’re looking to relive the servitude in Egypt so that we can better appreciate the Exodus celebration when the holiday arrives.

On Passover we greet one another with Chag kosher v’sameach – “a kosher and happy Pesach.” The kosher bit is paramount. But for too many it comes at the expense of happy. If so, then something is desperately wrong.

“No leavened matter” means exactly that. It means no chametz food particles. It means certain sealed cupboards, koshered stoves and covered countertops. It does not mean going no man – or woman – or child – has gone before. It does not mean scrubbing the parquet floor till you’ve sanded the wood down an inch. It doesn’t mean spending hours scouring the bath – unless you really enjoy the occasional sandwich in there. And it certainly doesn’t mean that one should perceive Pesach preparation with the same trepidation as the Jews perceived their Egyptian taskmasters.
Wishing you a kosher and happy one! Next year in Jerusalem. The year after in Miami perhaps?