Can I Prepare For Pesach Without Stress And Misery?

Guest post by Chaya Kurtz

The talk around town, at least amongst the lady folk, is cleaning for Pesach. This is horrible on so many counts that I cannot begin to count them. Here is why: Do I go around saying, “The yoke of heaven is so heavy on me! Aye! It chafes my skin!”? Do I? Do you? Do we go around saying, “I had such a hard time davening Shacharit this morning!”? Do you (do I) talk about your avoda like that? Is it cool to do that?

Now think about it. If every time you asked me how I was doing, I would reply something like, “I said asher yatzar after I went to the bathroom! Woooo hoooo,” you would want to hit me in the face. You would think that I was flaunting my avoda, trying to win the race for most bittul. You would think I was wicked annoying.

Listen, people, cleaning for Pesach is avoda. Avoda is hard. But talking about it, and competing for who does it better, and having to hire a cleaning lady when you are flat out broke…what is going on here? (Answer this, also: What if you are the cleaning lady? What…are you going to hire yourself? Believe it or not, Jewish cleaning ladies exist. I was one.) This is not OK.

I frankly want to hear about your avoda as much as I want to hear about gruesome organ removal operations. So maybe you are so cool that you clean that cabinets that you are taping closed anyway. Cool for you. If I am not kosher enough for you, then don’t eat at my house.

Ladies: This is a rallying cry for a sane Pesach cleaning season. You don’t have to go broke hiring cleaning ladies, whose work you’ll have to redo anyway. You don’t have to spend $1000 to replace every single item in your kitchen and dining room, including your chairs. You do not have to throw away your chairs! Where the heck did people get the idea that you have to throw away your chairs at Pesach??? Just wipe them down, spray them with Lysol, and call it a day.

Here are Auntie Chaya’s guidelines for a sane Pesach cleaning:

  1. Drink as much alcohol as you want to drink while cleaning.
  2. Lysol spray renders chametz inedible, and it is your best friend.
  3. If there is chametz in your bathroom, then someone is eating in the bathroom, and that should only happen in middle schools.

Now let’s all have a Pesach cleaning party. Pour yourself a bottle of wine, get out the oven cleaner, and have at it. But please, please…we are not in a race for who can be the most bittul. So this year, let’s just tape it up, cover it in garbage bags, sell it, and douse the place in chemicals. It’s gonna be awesome.

  • Princess Lea

    1) Crumbs are not chometz.

    2) Unless one plans on eating off that surface, that surface does not have to be cleaned.

    3) If there are any forgotten food items in the back of clothing closets, they are rendered hefker by the declaration at bedikas chometz.

    Meaning, to quote the late Rabbi Blumencratz, “Just sweep up!” And, quoting him again, one does not have to pull out the oven to get the three lokshen that jumped behind there.

    While Pesach cleaning is certainly an avodah, what we are doing today is merely driving ourselves crazy for no reason. A broom suffices for avodah.

  • Elana K

    This article makes me sad on so many levels. Firstly, because I had really liked Chaya’s response to Deborah Feldman’s book, and this article is just so not on that level. Secondly, what kind of community is Chaya living in where people are talking like this and going broke for Pesach cleaning? I’m a working mother of two and this is not what I speak about with my friends and co-workers. Nor am I spending my life savings on hiring a cleaning lady. Thirdly, Pesach cleaning IS hard, and just like you might talk about other difficult things with friends, you can choose to talk about this. Spiritual, religious people DO talk about their avodah with friends – they talk about their hardships and triumphs because that’s what’s important to them.

    And by the way, little kids can bring food into the bathroom.
    And dousing the place with chemicals? Right…cause that’s safe for kids.

    If you’re attempting to get people psyched for Pesach, bashing us women who do do the hard, dirty work is not the right way, at least not for me.

    • I live in Crown Heights. Even people who are on food stamps hire cleaning ladies and spend thousands on Pesach every year. The community’s insane Pesach rites are bunk and I have a right to promote another approach.

      • Chava

        Brooklyn does have it all wrong. Such unnecessary stress.I’m curious about what response article was she talking about to Deborah Feldman? That I would like to read.

      • Just try to imagine how people did it just a few generations ago. They didn’t have vaccuum cleaners, Windex, Easy-Off, or aluminum foil. That’s right – NO ALUMINUM FOIL!!! On the other hand, they didn’t have all this STUFF we can’t seem to live without these days, to clean around. How did they clean the floor? Sweep the dirty dirt out, scatter some new “clean” dirt around, you’ve got new flooring for Pesach. So relax, you’ve got it better than that!

        And next time you hear someone say that “everyone” must have or do whatever, just ask what they are doing to see that those less fortunate can be included in that “everyone”.

      • Ellen Lebowicz

        I knew someone in Crown Heights who hired a moving van, moved all her furniture in there in order to be able to do a thorough cleaning, and moved it back in again (I imagine she cleaned the furniture first).

        Ellen Lebowicz

    • Elana,
      I think you are overreacting to this article. It is written with humor and so you should read it. Yes, day fater Purim people start posting on FB that they started cleaning for Pesach. everyone talks about it, some people go far and beyond, some do whatever they can minimally but kosher. I think she is not trying to get people psyched but on the contrary she is saying to lighten up. Sorry, you don’t see it.

  • Rebecca Klempner

    Love those guidelines, Chaya:

    Here are mine:

    1) Daven.

    2) Now is not the time to go organic with your cleaning solutions. (Although I prefer 409 to Lysol 🙂 )

    3) If you’re Litvish–embrace Rabbi Scheinberg’s shita (zt’l).

    4) Listening to Torah tapes is nice, but when you really, REALLY don’t feel like picking up that sponge again, break out the music. If you’re really in bad shape, listen to whatever you listened to in middle/high school, even if it was Duran Duran and you’re now embarrassed about that period of your life.

    5) The only stories about Pesach cleaning worth telling your friends and neighbors are those that are funny. (Like when my daughters woke up the day after Purim and told me over breakfast that now it was time to clean for Pesach. As they were eating Cheerios. Which were falling on the floor. They didn’t offer to pick them up.)

    • LOVE IT. Yes, during the year I use only organic cleaning solutions. For Pesach, I completely change my standards and use the heavy guns. Windex sent me products to test and write about, and I was like, “PERFECT. I HAVE A PROJECT TO TEST THOSE ON.”

  • From the letter I sent to all the parents in our school (adapted from the letter sent our by Rabbi Barry Gelman to his congregants):

    I would like to offer a final word about cleaning for Pesach. The reason we clean for Pesach is to get rid of chametz that, if found on Pesach, we would want to keep. These items can be referred to as “Important Chametz.” Checking for “important chametz” is easy to do. We are not concerned with small pieces of chametz that we do not want.

    One must remember that there is no obligation to destroy chametz crumbs – the prohibition is eating them on Pesach. Therefore, we must be careful to clean away any chametz that may come into contact with food. Since the kitchen is the location where most of our food is prepared, we must be very careful when preparing this room for Pesach. However, crumbs that cannot get into food do not have to be cleaned away. We have to keep this in mind when cleaning for Pesach and make sure not to confuse Pesach cleaning with spring cleaning.

    It would be a shame to approach Pesach with a sense of fear and dread, wishing that you could go to a hotel instead of staying home and cleaning. Would the Torah decree an action that a normal, intelligent person would consider difficult, especially during time of happiness and redemption? Also, it is certainly a disgrace to the Torah and to God to work so hard before Pesach that you enter the Seder exhausted and barely able to keep your eyes open. Remember… ~Once~ we were slaves!

  • Esther Cohen

    Why is it taken for granted that women are the only ones who must clean?

    • Do you want me to answer that, or was that a hypothetical question?

      • Esther Cohen

        Chaya, Please answer! Thanks!!!!

        • OK. Like it or not, and this may or may not be my “internalized sexism”, the burden of housework falls primarily on women. Even in homes where the man is super helpful (like mine! my husband helps!), the onus to clean is usually on the woman. You’ll see that even in “feminist” households where all rules of gender are subverted, women end up taking responsibility for maintaining sanitation and organization in the house. I was told by almost every frum Jew in the entire universe that the home is the Beis HaMikdash, and the woman is Aaron HaKohen. In other words, it is the job of the woman to take care of the house. Can men be helpful? Yes. Of course, and they would be jerks if they weren’t. As a general rule, though, these things fall on the shoulders of women.

  • Rivki Silver

    This makes me so happy to live in Baltimore. Also, that I’m going to my in-laws for Pesach (don’t hate, I made Pesach last year, with two toddlers afoot and while largely pregnant).

    Pesach happens to be my favorite holiday. But despite my love for it, and my love for cleaning, I did find the limbo turning-over period to be stressful. Also, kids are masters at dispersing chametz. It reminds me of the story about a family who turned on the air conditioner during Pesach one year and a flurry of Cheerios flew out.

    What’s my point? Oh, sometimes there are parts of avodah that it’s good to talk about, and it can be helpful to vent to other Pesach-makers for support, you know, if you’re feeling overwhelmed. It can be a nice way to get some more koach to continue. But, yeah, it should be done with seichel, and we should be normal about the whole cleaning thing.

    I like your tips, but there is definitely food in my bathroom. I blame the baby. 😉

    • Rebecca Klempner

      We’ve got food in the bathroom, too! And the closet…I’m looking forward to that period of life being over!

  • “So this year, let’s just tape it up, cover it in garbage bags, sell it, and douse the place in chemicals. It’s gonna be awesome.”

    I love this! I feel like I should add more of a comment… but really you pretty much said it all. Great job, Chaya.

  • iepel

    Great post! Too funny and true, I love the tips.

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  • Mikhal-Sarah Gordon

    People enjoy complaining about Pesach/Spring cleaning for the same reasons they enjoy complaining about the weather, snow shoveling, lawn mowing, tv commercials, elevator music, the price of things, their kids, their pets and anything else they share in common. It’s a group commiseration thing. Jews bond over Pesach cleaning, Christians over Christmas shopping/prepping and Muslims over Ramadan & Eid prep. I specifically like to complain that the Nestle/Osem chocolate milk mix is insoluble in liquid.
    No, it should turn into competition and crazymaking but the complaining is perfectly normal. We not-so-secretly enjoy communal kvetching.

  • Yossi

    Like my Bubby would say, “Crubs aren’t chometz, and the children arent the korban pesach” 🙂

    Great article!

  • Millie Hayes

    I hate Pesach. I also hate Purim because it ushers in the insanity in my life that is the Pesach season. I work at a Pizza store as a mashgiach, so suffice it to say that it is my busiest time of year. My husband is a hoarder. I have four tiny children. We are the only frum people in our family, so everyone comes to our house for Pesach. I am solely responsible for the kashrus on Pesach of at least 10 people. I decided that even though I am a “frum” Jew and I’m not going to eat any chometz on Pesach, I am not going to keep Purim or Pesach this year.

  • deitybox

    A-effing-men.

  • RECOURSE CONSULTING

    found your post as i was about to post on FB – “drinking beer while cleaning for passover. is that kosher? hope so cos i need it!!” thanks for the cute article, although im not a fan of the chemicals so have to put in a tad more elbow grease. all good!!

  • Hannah

    Im a newly wed and olah chadasha in Israel. My husband grew up with extremely strict pesach cleaning (im talking blow-tourching the counter tops to burn any microscopic peace of chametz that might still be there after the regular cleaning) and we are having a hard time bridging the gaps. Its the first time pesach has been more of a burden than a joy and I hope that next year will be better. Although I want to always keep a kosher home especially on pesach, the most important element of the chag should be shalom beit. We all should focus on the joys of the holiday and not get tied up in the stress and burdens of having an emaculate house. As one person commented on this chat, “ONCE we were slaves.”