Passover Prep Means More than Just Sweeping Out the Crumbs
We can grow from the Passover experience if we spring-clean our souls as well as our homes.
More than 3,300 years ago, God swept the Jewish people out from our slavery in Egypt, where we had toiled for more than 400 years. He did not wait for a United Nations resolution on the matter -- the Almighty acted unilaterally, and for this, we Jews remain forever grateful.
Remembering the Exodus from Egypt is central to Jewish life -- so central, in fact, that we mention it in our prayers every single day. But why is it that this holiday, which celebrates liberation from slavery, involves so much physical labor? Many Jews, particularly the Orthodox, devote weeks to arduous cleaning of every nook and cranny of the house. This is because during Passover, Jews may not eat, own or even benefit from leavened products, such as bread, crackers, pasta and a whole host of other things, too.
In the Haggadah, our Passover playbook that recounts the history of the Exodus, it states that God took us out of Egypt "with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm." These are appropriate images to keep in mind since preparing for Passover requires both a mighty hand (two would be better) and an outstretched arm to get to those hard-to-reach crevices behind the couch where your kid stashed a packet of Oreos a few months back. Those who work so hard to clean their homes of any “chametz” (leavened products) may sit down at their seders exhausted, but with the satisfaction of knowing that their homes are truly kosher for Passover.
Still, why can't Jews just commemorate our liberation with some traditional Jewish comfort food, like chicken chow mein? Why does scrubbing down the house and eating hard, crummy matzah, which tastes stale even when it's fresh, remind us of freedom?
The answer is that freedom is more than just a physical reality; it's a spiritual condition. And without a structure to our lives, we have no freedom; we have only chaos. Gravity works much the same way: Without gravity, everything and every one of us would just float up into the atmosphere, hither and thither. Similarly, our value system is our "spiritual gravity" -- it's the structure that keeps us morally grounded. It gives us enough space to grow but not so much space that we'll just float around aimlessly, experimenting with potentially disastrous lifestyle ideas.