November 16, 2018

Exodus from … too much stuff?

I once attended a class on Pesach preparation taught by a rabbi who told his all-female audience that the entire search for chametz outside the kitchen should take no longer than one hour, tops. This was an Orthodox rabbi, mind you, speaking to women who had been going mano a mano (so to speak) with the business side of a scrubbing sponge for days.  This rabbi was never seen or heard from again, undoubtedly whisked away into the Kosher Witness Protection Program by colleagues who feared for his life.

Was the rabbi right? Who knows? Who cares? Despite his black velvet hat and dangling tzitzit, his words were sacrilege. Most traditional Jewish women I know are hard-wired not to consider their homes completely kosher for Pesach unless they have been scrubbed and polished to within one matzah’s thickness of their lives.

Gripe though I might, I secretly enjoy the Pesach hustle. It’s not that I’m a clean freak, but honestly, if I don’t give this place a working-over before Pesach, by the time Yom Kippur rolls around, I’ll have to strike the left side of my chest several extra times, intoning, “And for the sin of not getting rid of those shoes that always squeezed my little toes and giving them to Goodwill, and for the sin of allowing the dust bunnies in the closet to multiply like rabbits, spiking allergies in the entire family ….”

I admit to being a card-carrying member of the great Jewish sisterhood that intentionally wields a bottle of Simple Green, knowingly conflating spring cleaning with Pesach cleaning. Still, don’t professional organizers preach about how liberating it is to whittle down our material possessions? This year, I plan to liberate an entire drawer full of useless, antiquated cassette tapes that I’ve finally acknowledged I will never bring in to transfer to CDs. Yes, I’m preparing to liberate myself from my personal Mitzrayim of too much stuff, and if I can do that while listening to a good Pesach class on my iPod, I will feel even better about the effort.

I also convince myself that cleaning for Pesach is a great way to build muscles, as evidenced by my pectoral muscles that are screaming silently to give them a break after carrying heavy loads from the house to the car to the thrift store.

And, truthfully, I harbor the lingering hope that I will enjoy my own personal Pesach miracle and find treasures that have gone missing the year before. This year, I am praying that I uncover, under a recalcitrant dust bunny, a beautiful enameled pendant that disappeared a few years ago. I ask HaShem, “I know you are probably busy with other things, but I’d really appreciate getting back that pendant. Look, if you can split the Red Sea, can’t you please give me back my pendant? I promise to tell everyone at the seder that You helped me find it.” If this doesn’t work this year, I’ll know that either a) we really are not supposed to make deals with the Almighty, or b) that I need to up the ante next year.

A few years ago, on the first night of Pesach, our house in pristine, chametz-free condition, we welcomed my father-in-law and his wife over to the seder. It’s a good thing I met them out on our front porch, as my father-in-law, may he rest in peace, had brought us a gift.

“I brought beer!” he announced, lifting up a 12-pack. I don’t know if he could see the color drain from my face in the moonlight, but he couldn’t mistake the tone in my voice as I firmly (yet respectfully) insisted that he leave the chametzdik beer outside. He shrugged. He had meant well, but since then I’ve had no choice but to check our guests’ gifts at the door — just in case.

I actually feel sorry for that rabbi who insisted that Pesach cleaning in the rest of the house only takes an hour and then “dayenu,” even beyond the fact that he’s probably hiding out in an electronics store in Flatbush.  With an attitude like his, I’d bet my box of handmade shmura matzah that he won’t enjoy Pesach like I enjoy Pesach. Until you’ve rolled up your sleeves and boldly waded into your overstuffed closet until it splits and you can see the other side, you miss experiencing the exodus from material overload to more of the essentials, thinking about what you really need. And isn’t that part of what Pesach is all about? l

Judy Gruen ( is the author of “The Women’s Daily Irony Supplement” (Creative Minds Press, 2007).