Monday, March 8, 2010

Finding meaning in Pesach Cleaning

Everyone has heard this piece of good advice that is rarely taken (even by the one who said it) which is that one ought to be cleaning for Chomeitz according to the halacha and not spring cleaning. First do the Chomeitz cleaning then the spring cleaning if there's time. Obviously to know the difference between the two requires a certain amount of learning before hand.

I once had a family member from England staying with us two weeks before Pesach and she very kindly offered to do some Pesach cleaning for us whilst my wife and I were at work. When I got home, my relative proudly showed me how she had spent the whole day with an earbud, removing the grime from the gold leaf picture frame in the living room.

BTW, this story would seem even funnier for Americans who understand the word earbud to mean the cover they put on headphones. In British English, earbuds are what you Americans call qtips.

Tachlas, As there are so many of us who do do far more than the halacha demands I thought I'd at least give you some justification for doing so.

Most shiurim on cleaning just talk about what must be done in order to clean your home for Pesach but I'd also like to talk about cleaning as a spiritual preparation for Leil HaSeder. I'm not talking about arriving at the Seder so exhausted that you feel like you have just crossed Yam Suf. I'm talking about the effect that cleaning can have on the psyche.

They say that cleaning is good for the soul. When I was in my early twenties I had a good job in London and lived at home. I had turned my bedroom into a music listening studio and used to spend most of my money on HIFI equipment and vinyl records. I made aliyah with a British Linn/Naim system which I eventually sold to go towards a deposit on our new home  (Yes, it was worth that much!) as our family expanded.

Sometimes I would be listening to music and the sound would seem somehow muffled or stale. I read an article in HIFI Review magazine that even with the best equipment this can sometimes happen. They adviced that after the usual equipment checks, if all else fails, clean the room! Remove all clutter and dirt etc., then sit down and listen again. So I tried it. (When my Mum caught me voluntarily cleaning my room she thought either she or I'd gone mad!). I spent over an hour cleaning my bedroom and then sat down to listen. Amazingly it worked.

It could be that clearing the clutter in the room meant that there was now less obstructions for the sound waves to pass through and hence, purer cleaner sound. However, I always suspected that there was some spiritual aspect to this as well. The very act of cleaning your environment puts you in a more receptive "open" mood to listen.

On Leil HaSeder, we know that the central mitzvah is to speak and relate the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim – the Exodus from Egypt. It should seem obvious but for many it has to be spelled out that there must be a parallel mitzvah to listen to the one telling the story. Perhaps Pesach cleaning clears the cobwebs from your mind and helps you to be more receptive on Leil HaSeder. If that's the case then you should certainly get all your family involved in Pesach cleaning. This spiritual cleaning of the mind is the key to understanding the central message of Biur Chomeitz – the nullification of Chomeitz from your home.

The Mitzvah of Biur (nullification of) Chomeitz

Let's start with the basics.

The Torah tells us (Shemos 12:15) "For seven days you shall eat matzos, but on the previous day [14th], you must TASHBITU (from the source Shabbos – to make rest – means to nullify or eliminate) the sour dough (seor) from your homes, because anyone who eats Chomeitz, on Pesach, that soul shall be cut off from Israel, from the first day to the seventh day."

Shemos 12:19 "For seven days, sour dough (seor) may not be found in your homes, for anyone who eats chomeitz – that soul shall be cut off from the assembly of Israel, whether a convert or native to the land. You shall not eat any mixture of chomeitz (machmetzet) ; in all your dwellings shall you eat matzos".

So we have a mitzvah to eliminate the chomeitz from our homes before Pesach. The strange use of the word "Tashbitu" forces the Rabbanim to understand that this is not just a physical cleaning job but also a spiritual task as well. Furthermore, if we fail in this task then our souls are cut off from Israel.

We must eliminate chomeitz or seor (that which is not chomeitz itself but can turn something else chomeitz) not only from our homes but from our minds as well.

Chazal tell us this chomeitz elimination is preparation in order to eat the korban Pesach on Leil HaSeder. (For the time being, we eat a double portion of Matzah as a substitute). The korban Pesach represents our commitment to Hashem and the rejection of Avodah Zarah – foreign gods and influences.

We should have kavanah that all the physical exertion while cleaning is Avdus Hashem. We are not cleaning by order of a human master who tells us to search for dirt. We are removing the chomeitz from our home (and our mind) because Hashem commanded us to do it. After all, we know that what Hashem tells us to do is ultimately in our best interests. It is good for us.

The term Mitzrayim

Rav Zev Leff explains that when Mitzrayim is used in the Torah, it refers to a state of mind, an illness called Mitzrayim.

When Eretz Mitzrayim is used, it means the physical land of Mitzrayim.

We should be cleaning our mind from an illness called "Mitzrayim".

Shemos 12:39 – 41

39 "They baked the dough that they took out of Mitzrayim into Ugot Matzot, for they could not be chomeitz ! for they were driven our of Mitzrayim for they could not delay, (nor had they made provisions for themselves)".

40 "Bnei Yisrael dwelled in Mitzrayim 430 years".

41 "It was at the end of the 430 years; it was on that very day that all the legions of Hashem left Eretz Mitzrayim".

The dough which Am Yisrael had "taken out" created by, Mitzrayim they made into Matzos, they rejected the chomeitz of Mitzrayim, they were forced out of Mitzrayim.

Am Yisrael were in this state of mind called Mitzrayim for 430 years.

At the end of this period (afer 210 years of actual slavery in Egypt) they left Eretz Mitzrayim – the physical land of Mitzrayim.

The Chocolate cake with a difference

As already explained, Chazal instruct us that while cleaning the physical chomeitz, we should be cleaning the spiritual chomeitz from our homes as well – the foreign influences that detract from a Torah home.

Clean out those magazines, books or DVDs that perhaps are not the most modest in content or go against Torah values. You've cleaned out your kitchen cabinets of chomeitz food products so, while shopping for Pesach products, spend more time checking the hechsher of products rather than trying to get exactly the product you buy throughout the year. A different brand ketchup or mayonnaise, might just add to the uniqueness of Pesach.

(Story based on an email that Rav Tzvi Liker sent me.)

Pesach was 3 weeks away. The father had told his kids to clean their rooms of chomeitz. He also told them that while cleaning out the physical chomeitz, that they should use the opportunity to clean out the spiritual chomeitz from their rooms as well. All those books, magazines and DVDs that contained questionable content that weren’t exactly compatible with Torah values and modesty.

The kids went crazy. "All our friends have these. They are only rated PG-13 for mild content. We aren't fundamentalist Xtians! There is only a bit of sex in them. They only swear using Hashem's name twice. The rest is non stop excitement, quality drama! Its 99% Ok".

The father said nothing and the kids carried on Pesach cleaning. Soon they began to smell this wonderful aroma coming from the kitchen. They all came to investigate. The father was pleased to see them.

"Kids! Because you have been working so hard I've decided to bake you a treat. A large chocolate cake. Its made with the finest ingredients and the most expensive chocolate. Oh yes, and I've also added a tiny tiny amount of dog's poo. Don't worry, it's really a minute amount and you probably won't even taste it."

The kids looked at each other, their faces turning green "No thanks Dad!" they said.
The father shouted after them, "but its really only a very tiny amount of dog's poo".

From then on, whenever his kids asked him about a questionable DVD, book or magazine, all he had to do was remind them of that Chocolate cake with the wonderful aroma.


Bouncer said...

There's something a bit ify about the tone arm on that Sondek in the photo. It's not the one I remember seeing on your mortage deposit.

Reb Mordechai said...

Very perceptive of you Bouncer. I owned the Linn Ittok LVII and the one in the photo is the Ittok LVIII.

They are almost identical. Very impressive that you noticed.