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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Chametz Cleaning

I love Passover. I love the food, the songs, the Haggadah, the friends, the whole celebration!

I hate cleaning for Passover.

There are all levels of cleaning chametz out of the home before Pesach. Even my most secular friends here in Israel make their homes free of chametz which is any leavened food, forbidden to Jews during the Passover week.

Note to Jew-haters: blood is forbidden year round, so you can quit spreading that rumor any time....

What is chametz? It's bread, obviously, and not so obviously it is any combination of water and grain that ferments. Specifically, it is any of the five grains -- wheat, spelt, barley, oats, and rye -- which has come into contact with water for more than 18 minutes. It includes such basic food stuffs as breakfast cereal, crackers, cookies, cakes and.....beer!

The Husband is already feeling withdrawal pangs.

Chabad points out, correctly, that since chametz can be present in the ingredients of prepared food items, one should buy only "kosher-for-Pesach" labeled food items.

Okay, I see the point in this, and when we lived in a Chabad community, we followed that as closely as practicable....if there is an upside/downside to living in Israel, you find that Chabad is correct if one is a Lubavitcher, but that there are other, more lenient interpretations also.

I don't keep bread and cookies and beer in my house during Pesach.

Generally, anything already opened and used in the kitchen and dining room is also chametzdik, to be on the safe side, so the open container of cottage cheese which had a knife in it that previously had contact with crackers (to spread the cottage cheese) is something that goes. Unopened cottage cheese stays.

OTOH, I see no reason to get rid of my sealed yoghurts. The label says "kosher" but not "kosher-for-Pesach"....so I looked at the ingredients and failed to find anything that remotely suggested chametz in the ingredients. The yoghurt stays.

I do NOT throw out all the spices in my cupboard which have been opened and used. But I put them away in the "chametzdik" cupboard and sell them for the week, and buy new unopened spices for that one week. Heck, I always need extra turmeric, cinnamon, and curry anyway...

Ditto for the dried fruit. Unopened packages are okay for Pesach, and the opened ones get put away in the "chametz" drawer.

People's practices vary depending on their degree of religious observance and also on the time available. Pesach cleaning was never intended to be a prodigious spring-cleaning, although I know a lot of women who treat it as a major household overhaul. Even rabbis caution against this -- Pesach cleaning is to rid the house of chametz. Period.

Why the fixation on what seems to be such an ancient ritualistic rule?

First, G-d commanded it. If you don't believe that, then I can't help you.

Second, any Jewish community, no matter what its level of stringency, or not, loves its customs that have come down from antiquity in our annual celebration of the Festival of Freedom.

Third, there is a spiritual aspect to ridding one's home of chametz, which is, sadly, often overlooked or lost in the hectic rush. As one rids the home of leavening, one should be ridding one's soul of the schmutzi stuff we've accumulated over the year. It's time to let go of ego, let go of anger, let go of pettiness, let go of injured feelings, false pride, revenge fantasies, despair and hurt.

If you clean your house but don't try to clean your soul, you're sort of missing the point, apart from "First" noted above.

The importance of this commandment regarding ridding ourselves of chametz is discerned in the way it is applied: first, it is the only time Jews are commanded to do without something communally for a week; and second, it is the only food that cannot be nullified by the 1/60 admixture rule during this week.

Now, there is chametz cleaning and then there is OCD chametz cleaning. My rebbetzin tells tales of people who actually put cheesecloth in the water pipe between the street main and the pipe into the house to prevent chametz from entering the home. Sorry, but this is just too over-the-top for me...when was the last time you turned on your faucets and saw bread crumbs pour out, after all?

We do what I think is pretty basic: eat all the chametz items we can before Pesach.

Clean every room that has had food in it. This is every room except the bathrooms and our bedroom. The Boy eats at his desk in front of his computer, the Husband and I both eat at our computer desk, and of course there is the living room/dining room area...

Prodigious laundry stuff. Wash sheets, wash tablecloths, wash clothes, wash dishtowels, etc.

We clean for chametz. Way too many people do "Spring Cleaning"...as much as I love the fact that my husband cleaned all the windows in the house, I don't remember ever eating on the windows.....however, I'm not complaining since he cleaned the refrigerator for me tonight (a job I loathe, and which he does better and faster than I do...).

In addition to the 'fridge, we also clean the cupboards, stove, the burners, kasher the sink and line it, and boil the granite countertops. I specifically got granite countertops so I wouldn't have to line them. And also scrub the backsplashes...I'm even known to take toothpicks to pick the schmutz out of the cracks....

Now if I could take those toothpicks to grimy parts of my neshamah as well....


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