Spring Cleaning - It's Not Just for Houses Anymore
April has not exactly made a spectacular debut here. She’s wept and growled like a spinster shunned around here all this April Fool’s Day. Tomorrow we’re supposed to have sunshine. Perhaps, then, April was only kidding; she’ll perk up and let the spring bulbs finally bloom. We’ll have to wait and see in the coming days. The forecast isn’t promising, but it is nothing compared to what the good folks of Queensland, Australia have endured in the last week to ten days. I know no one personally in that part of the country, but they are amazing people to survive, rebuild where needed, and simply carry on after such a natural disaster.
Optimist that I am, I’ve started a few hydroponic seedlings in what is supposed to be my dining room. We moved our Aero-Garden there last fall. Between the natural light, lack of drafts, and the grow light, just about every plant I’ve placed there seems to thrive. Gives me hope for when I begin the seedling process in earnest with my tea-bottle pots in a few weeks. No idea what the outdoors and the goofy soil we have here in Moon Twp will do to my baby plants, but we hope. If I can’t grow to feed us, perhaps I can provide something for the furry critters that dwell in the woods behind us. Especially that groundhog that climbed up the fencing around my vegetable garden last year and feasted on my squash leaves, the cheeky little bugger. I’m sure he’s hoping for another banquet this year.
And that seems to be the theme for this time of year: hope. Not only the re-awakening of the earth, but a re-awakening of the soul. It’s that time of the year, all right.
Passover is eight days away. It’s going to coincide with Easter (or Ostara or whatever one chooses to call the better-known celebrations this time of year), as it sometimes must. I hope my Easter-observing friends will pardon me if I (pardon the pun) pass over the commonalities and differences and connections and all the usual business of these coincidences. I wish them joy in their celebrations, but I decline to engage in compare/contrast right now. There’s too much to do.
Tradition tells us to put away leavening and grains of all kinds in anticipation of Passover.
Put away. Yeah. About that.
What they mean is clean it all out – wash out cupboards, clean the oven, box the flours and grains and yeast up, then put it away (some will go so far as to “sell” it to Gentile neighbors, but I’ve never met anyone who does this) for seven days. The rest of the house gets a good cleaning, too – yes, you can call it spring cleaning. It amounts to the same. Not being crazy about house-cleaning in the first place, I prefer to have a reason. Company for Passover and the lift one gets from shedding excess khametz (things forbidden for Passover) works.
Now I’m nowhere as fanatical about the clearing as I was when we were a family of five in Southeast Pennsylvania, or in Colorado, for one major reason: when my husband and I are working on a low-carb lifestyle, a lot of the grains and flours are out of the daily diet anyway. But there’s more to it than that: in putting away some of these usually everyday things, in choosing not to eat some “regular” items, we get back to making conscious choices about food. About what we put in our mouths and what should come out of them. We may not be bread-eaters or the like, but with Passover foods, we have to think more carefully about what we eat. And why.
We’ve been using The Santa Cruz Haggadah* for our Seders for nearly 30 years, after deciding the older, ‘Yea, verily yea’ versions my husband and I had grown up with did not really speak to me or our children. He still jokes that Santa Cruz is “new age-y” and a little hippie. It is that. And a little hokey and, in places, rather silly. However, it also asks that we look inside ourselves for our Jewish Passover’s meaning. It reminds us that life is not always safe, secure, or, especially in the story of the Exodus, free. We do not live in the same slavery as in ancient Mitzraim (ancient Egypt and other societies who believed themselves to be Masters), true, but we can create our own slaveries: work, mindless pleasure, blind pursuit of wealth, unreasoning ideologies, even sheer human pig-headedness that leaves us in dusty, dirty lives, weighed down by mental chains of “I can’t” or “It doesn’t matter” or “There’s nothing I can do about it.” It points out that we are never alone even in these self-created Mitzraim; there is Help, but we have to accept the Help, and then do the work. We need to do a thorough spring cleaning of the soul.
In some traditions, Passover is viewed as yet another New Year’s Day, and that is one reason I love it. It is a chance to remember, remind and start over again. There’s a lot of work that goes into it, no question. On the face of it, the work is not fun; it’s work, after all. With a few extra hands, it gets lighter, but it has to be done. And what a wonderful, delicious, cleansing and uplifting result is there to have once it is done!
But here’s the thing: Passover lasts only a few days. A few lovely, light, mindful days. And then what? The yeast and flours and other khametz come back and life begins again. So, do we rebuild those prisons? Readopt the old ideas and notions that weigh us down, hold us back, keep us from continuing the work? We all know there is more than enough “out there” to distract us from continuing the work? I suppose, then, the choice is whether to go back to being the distractions’ slaves or do the work to keep that soul spring clean. I hope this for myself and my family every year. This year I hope again, but have a gray-haired old broad’s determination to make it so.
Khag Sameakh, y’all!
The Santa Cruz Haggadah. Hineni Consciousness Press, 1992