By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
Dear Rabbi Fried,
I’m cleaning my house for Pesach as I have done every year since becoming more observant. I’m changing over the dishes, covering my counters and more. Although I know I need to do this, I’m having trouble getting anything spiritual out of all this cleaning and working. Could you give me anything to focus on that might help?
— Sonya L.
To tell the truth, I think what’s bothering you bothers most women, and their male helpers as well, when going through the drudgery of Pesach cleaning. The traditional blessings around this time of year are for a Purim sameach (a joyous Purim) and a Pesach kasher (a kosher Pesach). One Chassidic rebbe used to wish people a kosher Purim (it’s easy for Purim to be joyous, harder to make it proper and kosher) and a Pesach sameach (it’s often tough to bring Pesach in with joy with all the hard work it takes to get there).
If we take a new look at Pesach preparation in the context of understanding what a Jewish holiday is about, we can take a new and redeeming look at Pesach cleaning.
The concept of a yom tov, or holiday, in Judaism is very different from that of the secular world. In the world at large, time is a continuum, which moves in a straight line. We mark off times to represent days and dates, but those dates have no relation to the same date a year ago or many years ago. When one celebrates July 4, it is an important commemoration for events that took place more than 200 years ago, but those events happened only at that time. We celebrate them on the anniversary of when those events transpired.
In Judaism however, as explained by the Talmud and the kabbalists, time is not a continuum, rather it is a cycle. Every date takes us back to the source of that date. If at any given time of the year, God chose that date to reveal the Divine Presence and shone the great light of the Shechina onto the world, when we return to that date of the year-cycle that light is still shining just as brightly as the day He performed the miracles of revelation. There are some who clearly see and experience that light, those whom have elevated themselves to higher spiritual levels. But for the rest of us, that light is shining on us in a hidden way; that hidden illumination is the source of holiday holy-day, or holiday.
As such, a Jewish holiday is not something you do, rather it’s something you enter. For example, to relive the feelings of love and Heavenly protection in the desert, we need to actually leave our homes and enter a different physical and mind-space. This is why we live in a sukkah for seven days. We don’t just observe Sukkot, we enter the world of Sukkot.
On Shavuot night, which occurs seven weeks after Pesach, the custom is to remain awake all night, studying Torah. Through this total immersion in Torah we leave our worlds and enter the space of Sinai.
With Pesach, we are enjoined not only to observe Pesach, but also to transcend our world and enter into the world of Pesach. This is implicit in the statement of the haggadah that every year every Jew should see himself/herself as if they themselves are leaving Egypt. That’s only possible if you leave your familiar surroundings and enter a new world, the world of Pesach.
This is the reason we need to clean our homes of the familiar foods, even sell them to a non-Jew through the rabbi, and put out special tablecloths and dishes. We are no longer in our familiar homes, but have left those homes behind for our new homes — our Pesach homes. In the new home we are empowered to enter a new mind-space, the world of Pesach. With every cabinet you clean and every shmatte you use up, you’re one step closer to entering the world of redemption!
Wishing a wonderful, joyous and kosher Pesach to you and all the readers!
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at email@example.com.