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Scrubbing, Scouring, and Me

Scrubbing, Scouring, and Me

A Spiritual Perspective on Passover Cleaning


During my first three years of college, I lived almost entirely in my mind- thinking my thoughts, reading my newspapers, listening to my classes, having my conversations. I almost never did anything that had any meaningful impact on the world.

It wasn't that I didn't care. I cared so much it hurt. I cared so much that my mind was filled to capacity with worry and apocalyptic visions and depressing thoughts related to the evil and suffering I read about in the morning newspaper, and all of these thoughts left me completely and totally paralyzed.

They left me a revolutionary paraplegic.

It wasn't that I didn't care- I cared so much it hurt My dreams were so enormous, so vast and mankind-wide in scope that they just hibernated in my mind, stuck like a great blue whale unable to squeeze its way out of a drinking straw.

After adopting a traditional Jewish lifestyle during my senior year of college, my life changed in countless wonderful and unexpected ways. But one of the most important ways my life changed is that I finally learned to value the unfathomable power of a single mitzvah.

This newfound ability to think small enabled me to act, to do, to squeeze my way out of the drinking straw, and to make a real and meaningful impact on the world.

Judaism taught me, at long last, that if you want to fight world hunger, you can start by bringing a pot of soup to a bedridden friend, or by giving a hundred of the thousand dollars you just earned to the local soup kitchen, or by packaging up the leftovers from your birthday party and delivering them to a single-mother who is struggling to pay the rent.

Judaism taught me that if you want to bring peace to the world, you can start by emailing your sister whom you haven't spoken with in three years, or by speaking a little more civilly to your downstairs neighbor who plays her TV way too loud, or by saying "good morning" to the woman you have ignored every morning for the past decade in the elevator you share on the way up to your office on the twelfth floor.

But what difference can these small actions make when the world is such a terrible mess?

What difference can these small actions make? The Midrash tells us the story of an idiot and a wise person. G‑d tells both of them that they must learn the entire Torah. The idiot says, "That's like trying to move a mountain into the sea with a single bucket! I'm no dummy! There's no way I can move a whole mountain…I'm not even going to try!" So he fills up one bucket full of rocks, and falls fast asleep.

The wise person looks at the mountain and says to himself, "I can't move this whole mountain. But G‑d said to do it, so I might as well give it a try. I'm going to get to work. I have nothing to lose, and anyway I get paid by the bucket!"

After the wise person transferred a few buckets full of rock to the sea, it triggered a landslide, and within a minute the whole mountain was swallowed up in one gulp by the sea waiting below.

G‑d is waiting for us to make an effort, no matter how small, to improve the world. It is from these micro-efforts, bucket by bucket, that we, with G‑d's help, will be able to perfect the world.

And that is what I am thinking about as I clean and prepare my home during these weeks leading up to Passover. Pocket by pocket, lego by lego, drawer by drawer, my home is being transformed. My family is leaving Egypt and making our way, ever so slowly, to the Promised Land. Mitzvah by mitzvah, we are making our way to a perfected world.

The great Chassidic Rebbe, the Aish Kodesh, taught that a Jew can only connect with the holy inner essence of Passover through the scrubbing and sorting and cleaning in the days and weeks leading up to Seder night. Just as we cannot feel our internal organs, our hearts, our lungs, our muscles until we move our bodies and we suddenly feel them pumping and beating and straining within us, so, too, we will only be able to experience the hidden holiness and light of Passover after we have moved our bodies and prepared our homes on a physical level.

For me, the most glorious moment of the weeks of Passover preparations is when I wake up a few days before Passover and come downstairs to discover my kitchen glimmering with tinfoil, like a space station orbiting Pluto. All of my cleaning, the child's backpack turned inside out and stuffed into the washing machine, the freezer scrubbed, the oven scoured, has brought my home to a whole new spiritual reality- from slavery to freedom. From exile to redemption.

Pocket by pocket. Lego by lego. Drawer by drawer. Bucket by bucket, by Seder night we will bring the great mountain crashing down into the sea.

Chana (Jenny) Weisberg is the author of the new book One Baby Step at a Time: Seven Secrets of Jewish Motherhood (Urim), and Expecting Miracles: Finding Meaning and Spirituality in Pregnancy through Judaism (Urim). She is the creator of the popular website, and lives with her husband and children in Jerusalem.
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Karen March 13, 2013

Wonderful! I am so moved by this and completely agree. When we make an effort to change and improve things, even a little at a time, we are being a part of the solution.
As I was reading about the cleaning and preperations I thought about my life and my body. Removing things from my life that I know G-d does not want there. Cleansing my body with foods that will remove what is not healthy. Making a true connection with G-d through prayer and study of the word. Changing my life and my ways a little at a time making an effort to be more pleasing to G-d. I love this article and the message it sends. A smile, a kind word or deed does make the world a better place. Thank you Reply

sue Kanata, ON April 3, 2012

I love you, sweetie- but moving a mountain into the sea seems decidedly WRONG. Let the sea move in, huh? Then we lose crops, housing and lives instead of having some defense against tidal bores and tsunami. Somehow I feel Egyptians (specifially) need not toss the whole ball game out in a bucket?
My suggestion is to offer the enormousluxury of such soul cleansing to the men this year. Let them toss the nails, saws, rags, gear, butt ends and bottles out in a bucket- save the mountain for yourself! Reply

Ellen jerusalem, israel March 24, 2012

great article!! A wonderful, motivating article. There is so much truth here. Having made Pesach at home for a almost 40 years now, I very much appreciate this good advice. Yes, one step a a time. But that means starting early. If you do it early, you can enjoy the process, without the frustration of racing against time. START!! That is the point. Once you make that start, it will begin to happen. A Kosher and Happy Pesach will result. Reply

Annette Staten Island, NY March 20, 2012

Cleaning for Passover Some of us are just too tired to do this for just one week! My house is cleaned everyday! The amount of work required for just one week holiday is too much for some of us. If we choose to leave and go elsewhere, so be it. Who are you to say we are less than you! I do make Passover in my house BUT respect those who choose to go! Reply

Hadassah North Miami Beach, FL March 19, 2012

update needed I loved this article but you should really update your profile of the author. She is now running a very successful women's internet site called Check it out! Reply

Enya St. Louis, MO March 19, 2012

Pesach preperation I loved your comments. In recent years, I have gone to my children. It would be hard for me to do what I did for years, but I miss the way the house looked and smelled in those days. Reply

Jolie Greiff Ramat Beit Shemesh , Israel March 19, 2012

Pesach cleaning Dear Chana/Jenny,

It sounds like you do such a great job, and you get finished early! When you're all done, and you need sunglasses to enter your kitchen, please consider coming over to help me 'cause I won't be done yet! Reply

Bracha Goetz Baltimore, MD March 19, 2012

Thank you for this awesome article! Reply

sharon Toronto, Canada April 6, 2009

Kol Hakavod Reading your article has validated all that I feel each time I look at my clean kitchen/home. This year especially I have taken more care and payed more attention to detail . Your article reaffirms the spiritual demonstrated in the physical act of cleaning. In deed, this year especially, my home will reflect the true and spiritual meaning of Pesach for both me and my son.
Thank you!!! Chag Sameyach V'kasher Reply

Annette SI, NY April 2, 2009

Passover cleaning This is a new spin on why we work so very hard for only one week. This makes it so worth while! Thank you for the insight. Reply

Anonymous TX/ USA via April 1, 2009

Thank you for sharing your approach to the cleaning- the" lego by lego" is literally important to me. I don't see the mountain of toys and "stuff" as an obstacle anymore- but as a new opportunity to renew and teach my children the important concept of - do your part and H' will help you get there. but we have to start, and with complete emunah. Reply

Anonymous durham, uk March 31, 2009

Fabulous! Loved this, so true and meaningful. Made me stop and think, which is always a good thing. Thank you xx Reply

Leah Cleveland, OH March 31, 2009

Very Good ! Beautiful !
Thank you for writing this. Reply

maggie anton los angeles, CA March 31, 2009

another perspective on passover cleaning If a woman finds spiritual satisfaction in cleaning like crazy for Passover, good for her. But what about the women who vacation at those all-inclusive Passover vacations at fancy kosher resorts. Even the seders are provided, either private for their family or with the other guests.

These Passover escapes fill me with a profound sadness. Why? Because their very existence shows that the preparation for Passover at home has become so onerous that Jewish women are jumping at the chance to avoid it entirely. It is a sorry commentary on Jews’ competition to be ever more zealous/obsessive that the work involved in koshering one’s home has become so oppressive that some women will give up and leave the burden to resort proprietors.

If prosperous Jews go away for Passover, who will invite the poor, the single, the lonely, to their homes for seder? Who will say, “This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in Egypt. All who are hungry, come and eat?" Reply

Anonymous MA March 30, 2009

Outstanding Article Outstanding. Thank You very much! Reply

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