Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Recommendations for a Stress-free Pesach

Yom chamishi, 18 Adar 5777.

As the post-Purim panic level begins to rise among those I love, it seems it's time yet again to dust off a few facts, and to share a few good ideas that have made Pesach -- dare I say it? -- one of my favorite holidays.

Bear in mind that the following recommendations are ideas and tools that have worked for me. I would love to hear what you have found works for you. All positive inspiration at this time of year is welcome!

Let's start with something very basic. Repeat after me: Dust is not chometz. Dust is not chometz. Dust is not chometz. (If you're Sephardi, dust is not hametz.) I know you know this; but your years and years and generations of Jewish guilt training will not let you embrace it. Go ahead. Indulge yourself. If you have forgotten how to indulge yourself, go ahead and pour a glass of wine, and take that rich dark chocolate out of the drawer.

Here are a few great ideas I have learned over the years, some from a creative and cheerful rebbetzin in New York, who published a delightful tape*; some from the energetic Rivka Slatkin, who published a number of guides on getting through the holidays (which I was blessed to be able to edit):

One of our excellent mechutanim, ready to battle chometz
  • Buy beautiful or fun aprons for yourself. Why should you do all that cleaning in a shmateh? I followed this advice, and it really picks up my spirits! (This is not sexist. Guys can clean for Pesach, too; and I have seen some great aprons designed to give smiles to the Mars set as well.)
  • Build a flexible schedule on one of those printout calendars. Seeing your chores in front of you and checking them off is empowering, and keeps you from feeling quite so overwhelmed.
  • If you didn't clean out the closets and paint the kitchen and dust the ceilings before Rosh Chodesh Adar (or Adar II in years that have 'em), forget it until after Pesach. Spring cleaning is still valid in May.
  • You can't always clean in private. But during the times when the kids are otherwise occupied, listen to a Torah lecture or to uplifting music while you clean. The former will enrich your knowledge, as well as offering the opportunity to feel good about yourself. The latter can really make the exercise fun. I recommend Udi Davidi for soul searching tunes, as well as some great, upbeat me'at mikdash cleaning music! (I hope he would consider that a compliment.)
  • The holiday is EIGHT DAYS out of your year. It is possible -- though a shandeh in some circles, I understand -- to seal up all the normal cupboards, put up folding tables, and live there, as if you are camping, for a week and a day. And it's kind of fun.
  • Israelis, geniuses that they are, have devised very cool products to help us to get through the holiday. My favorite: the portable gas stove top. Mamash genius! I clean the stove top, but without breaking any nails or using corrosives on my poor, delicate hands -- and then I close the lid, and set the Pesach stove top on top of my regular stove. One week of heaven on Earth!
  • There are lots of young people around with time on their hands who are actually advertising to help you clean for Pesach. (If not, you are living in the wrong neighborhood.) Allow them to earn money for the mitzvah of relieving you of stress. Win-win.
  • And speaking of help, this is a great teaching opportunity. Since my boys were small, they and their friends were encouraged to make a competition of scrubbing the front doors of my cupboards, light switch covers, anything non-essential but icky, that they probably created anyway.
When disaster strikes -- you're sick, God forbid; you have a steady stream of surprise guests from out of the country for every day leading up to the holidays; work decides to become ironically heavy in the month preceding Pesach; all of the above, which is not uncommon (because God has a wicked sense of humor) -- the following is a wonderful reminder. Please look over Rabbi Aviner's helpful (if somewhat rigorous) guide: How to do your Pesach Cleaning Cheerfully in Less than One Day.

One of the main things that gets me through this season with a good attitude is remembering what it's all about. Why are we getting rid of all this leaven? Yes, yes... I know. Because Hashem said so. But beyond that obvious fact, what do we gain spiritually from the exercise?

Having a good, healthy ego is necessary to function in the world. But a by-product of ego is hubris, an additive to our characters that is decidedly detrimental to our ability to fulfill our God-given missions on the Earth. Chometz -- leaven -- is symbolic of hubris, an inflated sense of self-worth, excessive pride. What joy that God gives us the opportunity to temporarily flush it out of our systems once a year! If we do this internal and symbolic cleansing with the right attitude, perhaps we are permitted at least a few months of valuing ourselves for what we truly add to the world, those individual gifts each of us has to complete our fellow human beings.

I give us all blessings for as pleasant and stress-free a Pesach prep as possible. See you on the other side of the Yam Suf!

*Remember cassette tapes? I played this particular rebbetzin's tape until I wore it out. Unfortunately, I cannot remember her name. I would love to give her credit. But at least her ideas stuck, and can be shared with you.

Feel free to add your ideas in the comments section. And if this has been helpful information, please feel free to share!


  1. Excellent. Thanks for the great tips and a nice dose of 'Calm Down' for the masses!

    1. Thank you, dear lady. Your comments are always appreciated!

  2. I love Pesach too. I even like the cleaning. And having an Israeli apartment that's 1/3 of the size of my house in America is a HUGE bonus! And a plug for aliyah.
    Thanks Ruth!

    1. My name didn't show up. It's Batsheva

    2. Thanks, Batsheva! Good to hear from you here. I agree. We had four impossible floors in the States... and one floor with fewer square meters is actually such a blessing. #lessismore

  3. Bravo on an excellent well timed article dear Ruti! What is cleaning sans music? Chag Sameach!! <3

  4. Thank you so much for dropping by, dear Netivotgirl, and thank you for you kind words. I agree about the music! :-)