Posted on: April 17, 2011
Rabbi K. encouraged us to get on our hands and knees to scrub our floors this week. She said even if we were traveling for Pesach, and therefore wouldn’t need to clear our home of chametz, that we needed to get on our hands and knees and clean. She’s the most passionate speaker I’ve had the pleasure of being in the presence with for a long time. She gets really excited, she’s animated and speaks with her hands. Her facial expressions are almost extreme as she arches her eyebrows and really gives it to the class.
“Get on your hands and knees and clean!” she exclaimed drumming her fists on the table.
This morning, I got on my hands and knees and cleaned…the fridge and freezer. I moped the floor like a regular person but, something happened. Rabbi K. told us that the repetitive nature of scrubbing, that back and forth motion, can be meditative. She asked us to think about the other chametz in our lives. The things that puff us up, make us bloated, make us feel full even though we may be empty. Our arrogance and ego are two areas of chametz in our lives. And just like she said, I was thinking while I was cleaning. Thinking of what makes me feel full but doesn’t satisfy me in my life.
I’ve always said that I come from two strong parents and in turn I am a strong person. I’m strong-willed, determined, and am always (always) right. I pride myself in being faster, smarter, quicker than everyone else. I’m competitive, ambitious, and driven. Great attributes, right? You need them in this world. You need them even more and in greater amounts in New York City. The City makes you develop a tough skin and put up blinders. Living here you make the choice to not see or hear things around you. There are good reasons for it, but I barely look people in the eye walking down the street and never wish someone a good morning walking through my neighborhood.
On Friday night I frantically left my job to run home to have Shabbas dinner with Mirs. I’d had a shitty Thursday and while going to shul could have been comforting but what I really needed was time with my partner. I got into my neighborhood with platters and cutlery in one hand, groceries in another, and a bottle of wine balanced on my pinkie finger. The sun was low in the sky, I noticed, but I had at least two hours before I had to light candles. That’s when I remembered I didn’t have candles. I was anxious for a moment and then noticed the neighborhood home goods store on the corner and went in. The shop keeper was a man who looked to be of Asian descent. I asked him if he sold candles and he told me he didn’t. I must’ve looked really pathetic because he asked how many I needed. I told him I was a new Jew and that it was Shabbas in a few hours and I forgot to buy candles. He went over to a display of wall sconces and removed two white pillars and handed them to me with a smile. I was shocked and thanked him repeatedly. After Pesach, I’ll make him cookies. Someone remind me!
It’s hard in New York to make statements like “I will give to the needy” or “I will smile at a stranger” because how do you know if the “needy” is in need of drugs or if when you smile at that stranger he’d make a sexual remark in return. You don’t know therefore I don’t know if I could do it. I’m thinking about it though, which is a step in the right direction.
We clean and we scrub. We sweep and we mop. We open the windows and wash down the panes. We sell our chametz of give it to the needy. In my case, it’s hiding in a pantry that won’t be opened for a week. We pull out rugs, couches, ovens, desks and get behind them to clean the house of every non-kosher item. Tonight observant Jews are searching for the last bits of Chametz with a candle and feather to burn in the morning. For 7 days we go without wheat (bread), rye (whiskey) barley (beer) spelt (gross bread), and oat(meal). Instead we eat matzoh, the “bread of affliction” and ideally we are reminded of redemption, freedom, and letting go of things that fill our lives with clutter. What happens after that 7th day? Do we go back to the way we were, filling ourselves with air until next Passover or do we truly let go of all of the Chametz?