My Word: Clean thoughts

The gift of freedom is the most precious Passover present we ever received; no wonder it came with strings attached.

I’m coming clean: I have gradually moved from planning to get ready for Pessah to actually doing something about it – nothing particularly necessary, but nonetheless I found myself at 1 a.m. scrubbing the bathroom tiles with a bleach-soaked pad.
It might have been the fumes, or maybe it was the tiredness, but somehow it didn’t occur to me at the time that if, by chance, some kind of leavened food product had been introduced into the bathroom, it was unlikely to have ended up on the walls that I was close to climbing.
But I have a dirty secret: There were some shelves in the cupboard which I hadn’t cleaned since last year. So I started on those, too. Then I got that sinking feeling, or at least the inexplicable urge to clean around the faucets. From there you can imagine what was down the pipeline – by 2 a.m., I was clearly going around the U-bend so I decided to call it a night.
Fortunately, this was before the clocks went forward. I’m not sure how I would have coped with a full day’s work following all my closet cleaning operations had I lost an hour. Even the thought that time is running out is as much a sign that Pessah is coming as the clocks changing.
Only in Israel is spring cleaning a religious experience, and only here could the start and finish of daylight saving time be related to religious holidays (and hence the hot topic of debate).
But I don’t have time to discuss that now. Pessah is coming.
I HAVE friends and neighbors who go crazy way before me, and far more thoroughly. Heaven knows I’m no cleanliness freak, but part of the collective Pessah experience is the cleaning.
Even secular friends admit they’re bitten by the bug this time of year.
Every year, too, I try to figure out the answer to one of life’s riddles: How is it that if you take all the books off a shelf, dust them down, return the ones you borrowed and give away the ones you no longer want, the remainder will not fit back into the bookcase? (I know I’ve shared this conundrum before but it’s also traditionally the time to ask questions.) For those of us who’ve turned pagan spring cleaning into a Jewish experience, there are lots of rules.
The Talmud says that something so bad that even a dog wouldn’t eat it is not a problem on Passover. My dog, however, eats almost anything. She also sheds more hairs than both my cats put together. This makes the cleaning even harder – although if there’s one holiday when dogs come into their own, it’s this one. Part of the miracle of the Exodus was that the dogs did not bark and give the Israelites away (a miracle I, indeed, can appreciate).
I ONCE interviewed a psychologist about Pessah-related problems and it turns out an obsession with cleanliness is only one of them. There is apparently a dramatic rise in stress and mental health-related issues resulting from the typical Israeli question: “Where are you for Seder night?” Apparently, this question can affect singles (who particularly feel their unmarried status at this family-oriented time); couples (who have to decide which family to go to); the divorced and widowed (who feel their loss more keenly); the childless and those worried about how their kids will behave – in short, almost everyone.
Nonetheless, as the saying goes: Avarnu et Paro, na’avor gam et zeh – we got through Pharaoh, we’ll survive this too. Just keep repeating: The gift of freedom is the most precious Passover present we ever received; no wonder it came with strings attached.
EVEN OUR neighbors in the Arab world appear to be spring cleaning, throwing out rulers who refuse to make a clean break – or at least trying to. Anti-corruption clean-up campaigns are known in Hebrew as biur hametz, a truly cultural reference reflecting the practice of burning leavened products before Pessah.
The flames in places like Syria, Libya and Yemen, unfortunately, could be getting out of control.
True, the image of our Knesset does not easily spring to mind when discussing either cleanliness or order, but when we see what’s going on elsewhere, we can count our blessings this holiday season.
And the very fact that Jews everywhere continue to celebrate Pessah after three millennia proves that miracles happen.
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post
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