By Rich Geller
Passover is just around the corner, and that means it’s time for spring cleaning! If your New Year’s resolution to finally get organized never quite panned out, Pesach presents the perfect opportunity to make good on that promise.
The Torah instructs us to rid our homes of hametz or leavened foods in anticipation of Passover: “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread; on the very first day you shall remove leaven from your houses, for whoever eats leavened bread from the first day to the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.” Exodus 12:15.
The search for hametz necessitates giving your home or apartment a deep and thorough cleaning. If you are a parent with young children, it’s also a great time to take inventory and donate, recycle and declutter. So before you’re banished from the entire Jewish community, here are some simple steps you can take to create order from chaos throughout your home.
Step one: Assemble your team. Remember, even Moses couldn’t do alone. Be sure to enlist your children in the Passover housecleaning. Then watch history come alive as they kvetch and complain, just as the ancient Israelites griped and grumbled their way through the desert for 40 years in search of the promised land!
Step two: Find strength in unity. Remember when you were a kid, how your Mom would get rid of all your stuff while you were away at summer camp or off visiting your grandparents? Why not take a more democratic tack and include your children in the decluttering fun? Crank up some tunes, put out some snacks and you’ve got yourself a sorting party! During the days leading up to the holiday, try to tackle one category per day – be it books, toys or clothing – to sort through together. Make a “keep” pile, a “hand-me-down” pile for siblings and a “donate” pile. Set aside books you might wish to sell back at a bookstore that buys used books or to give to Goodwill or your local library. Encourage your kids to deposit the proceeds from any books sold into your home’s tzedakah box.
Step three: Support the Arts. It is amazing how fast stuff accumulates when you have young children. Take art projects for example. In less than nine years, we have acquired enough drawings, doodles and paintings to open a museum devoted to our children’s art that would rival the Louvre. To keep from being deluged by the tsunami that our kids’ art has become, my wife and I have found ways to stem the tide. Begin by gathering as many art projects as possible together into a single space. Have your children help you sort through them and put aside your favorite pieces in a “save” pile. Try to keep items that are representative of landmark ages and phases. Take photos of pieces you wish to remember but don’t wish to keep, and then recycle them. Hopefully by the time you are done, you will have retained the most meaningful pieces while freeing up valuable real estate in your home.
Step four: Bedikas hametz. As Pesach approaches have your kids assist you in the bedikas hametz or the search for hametz. To prepare, first round up all the hametz in your home. This includes all your bread, cereal, pasta, pretzels and anything else that is considered to be leaven. Then either dispose of it or box it up and “sell” it to a neighbor for a nominal fee.
Now comes the fun part! The traditional bedikas hametz is conducted after sundown on the night before Passover. This is a really fun family activity, and kids will love it because it combines both running around with flashlights and setting things on fire – under parental supervision of course!
What you will need: flashlights (or wax candles if you’re brave), feathers, large wooden spoons and paper bags. It is traditional for parents to discreetly place 10 crusts of bread here and there for the wee ones to find. Assign each child a flashlight, a feather and a wooden spoon. When crumbs are found, sweep them into the “dustpan” with the “broom.” If your home is anything like mine, they’ll find all manner of relics, including ancient Cheerios, errant popcorn kernels and the ubiquitous Goldfish cracker. After the search is completed, place all hametz into a large paper bag. The following morning, burn the hametz in an indoor fireplace or safely outdoors and recite the following blessing: “All hametz or leaven in my possession that I have not seen, and have not destroyed, shall be nullified and become ownerless, like the dust of the earth.” With your home now certified hametz free, you’re ready to rock Pesach!
Step Five: Grow your own. Spring has long been synonymous with rebirth and renewal, as plants begin to flower, bud and blossom at this season. Now that your home has been restored and revitalized, why not brighten it by growing your own “bitter herbs” for the seder table? Not only is it a fun home project for children, it’s also a great way to beautify your home with some greenery.
Julia Waldinger, a kindergarten teacher at Congregation Beth Israel in Portland, explains, “My favorite activity to do with my kindergarteners is planting parsley for Passover. Between Tu B’Shevat and Passover, we water our parsley and watch it grow.”
What you will need: a flowerpot, some soil, parsley seeds and water. Let your children decorate the flowerpot with paint or markers. Then ask them to help you fill the flowerpot with soil and make a small indentation in the top of the soil with a finger. Give each child a few seeds and some water to sprinkle on the soil. Place the flowerpot in the sunshine, water daily and watch the parsley grow.
The rewards of decluttering are infinite. A clean space frees your mind to focus on the themes of freedom that Pesach presents. The Exodus was about leaving the past behind as the Israelites walked the path of freedom to a new life. Just as G-d delivered the Israelites from Pharaoh’s tyranny in Egypt, so can you liberate yourself from the tyranny of clutter this spring.
Some historians have even speculated that the ritual of spring cleaning itself may have its origins in the annual removal of hametz from Jewish homes prior to Pesach. So this spring, when you’re up to your knees in schmutz and schvitzing your keppe off cleaning, think of the generations before us that have kept the flames of freedom alive by preparing their homes for Passover. Now you are part of this proud tradition.
Rich Geller is a freelance writer and father of three.