Monday, March 26, 2007

Sanitizing the Insanity of Pesach

The brooms have come out of the closet, sweeping the crumbs off their feet. The mops have come out of retirement, mopping the brows of the hardwood floors in a swooshing rhythm. The dusters have been dusted off and are scattering the little feathery minutiae that congregate in corners and atop cabinets. Cleaning agents (don’t you just love that term, “cleaning agents,” sounds like little suds in dark suits and darker glasses, chasing grimy filth around in their government-issue, tinted-window sedans) have soaped and shampooed any surface that is, well, surfaced. And every book (which in a good Jewish home is more than the goyishe coffee table number and essential cookbooks) has been aired and its pages flipped. Such is the life in the Jewish home during the hectic pre-Pesach weeks – every nook, cranny and crevice is squeakily cleaned, hygienically sanitized and flawlessly spic-and-spanned.

Ironically, it seems, the holiday of freedom has imprisoned us in the Siberian gulag of chores; the time of exodus has shackled us to the tough bristles of the broom; the hour of redemption has exiled us to the dominion of domestic servitude. What is going on here – are we free to do as we please or has our exodus only been a transfer from the cell of Egyptian bondage to the pits of solitary confinement?

Ever since I was a child when, from Purim on, I was not allowed to bring food or drink into my room lest a rebellious crumb escape the plate’s status quo and defile my chometz-free bedroom, I’ve wondered about the whole Pesach cleaning thing – is it really necessary to blowtorch pots, silver-foil faucets and plastic-cover countertops?

(I’m sorry to burden you with this pun, but the whole Pesach cleaning experience seems to be wishy-washy. Ouch!)

As the human race would have it, there are those that would rather go with the faucet flow and not ask these dirty questions. And there are others that would go as far as calling these questions apikorses, bordering on the heretical (if not the hysterical). But, as I’ve been taught and as the holiday of Pesach demonstrates, we are nothing without our questions and if one were to deny a question – that would be heretical; it would mean that we believe the Torah was not intelligent enough to answer legitimate questions. (What would the Babylonian Talmud be without questions? Unanswerable if not unfathomable.)

If the perennial Bubby was around at the moment, she’d probably say to my questions, “Nu, megst fregen,” nu, so you’re allowed to ask, which, in my vast experience with such shrewd shrug-offs, would be a clear sign that there was no answer on the horizon (though, in all honesty, the fact that I’m allowed to ask may be the greatest answer of all). I guess her thinking would be, “Just because Judaism begets questions doesn’t mean grandmothers beget answers!” True, o wizened one, but where does that leave me?

Thankfully, in not only advocating (and supplying) questions but answers as well, Judaism and its blueprint, the Torah, has opened my eyes, pockets and cupboards to the deeper cleaning of Pesach: the brushes and soaps that reach beneath the polished surface and into the raw self.

The physical Pesach cleaning process, where we rid our homes, possessions and environments of any chometz, is but a reflection of the spiritual Pesach cleaning process, where we rid our personal selves – mind, body and soul – of any chometz.

What is physical chometz? Chometz (rhymes with summits) is any grain product – like bread, cake, pasta or pizza crust; be it wholegrain, multigrain, half-grain or even migraine – that has had the chance to ferment and rise.

Spiritual chometz is no different: it is the inflated self, the bacterial part of us that has had a chance to ferment way out of character and rise way out of proportion. Anything within ourselves that considers itself an identity all its own and has an ego that rises like warm yeast, is a piece of chometz. Like the physical chometz, the spiritual chometz tastes very good, is very fattening, and gets real moldy and real stale really fast.

If we want true freedom we have to throw away that yeasty garbage, we have to washout our dirty laundry, we have to clean up our micro-mess. Scrubbing our indecencies and selfishness away allows for our true beings to shine forth. Sweeping our minds of any crumbs left from our inflated – and, therefore, crumbling – egos allows us to uncover who we really are – people of the free, cut clean from any Egypt or confine, running unhindered and unrestrained (not to mention unsoiled) to the Promised Land.

So, before you throw in the towel, stop moping and start mopping – after all, if one was to clean not only the bottom of the shelf but also the bottom of the self, one would have to turn up the heat to a whole new level – to “self-clean” perhaps?


Blogger jakeyology said...

a piece i wrote for the algemeiner.

though this touches on bittul, i will still post on it.

3/26/2007 5:43 PM  
Blogger Chaya said...

Great post-meaningful, well-written, and humorous writing. I shared it with my mother who also loved it! (When I woke up this morning, I heard her repeating it to my sister...) A kosher and freilachen Pesach

3/29/2007 4:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

getting there... ;)


4/01/2007 8:57 PM  

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