Experiential Deep Clean

Spring has sprung! We are coming up on Pesach (Passover) in just a few weeks, and there is an interesting parallel between the idea of spring cleaning and the removal of Chametz (any food product made from wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt, or their derivatives, which has risen), which is traditionally not eaten during the 8 days of the holiday. For those who observe this Halacha (Jewish Law), it is forbidden to own, eat, or benefit from Chametz during Pesach, and that means engaging in a pretty deep clean.

Spring is the time during which the world wakes up from the long slumber of winter, and we see evidence of new and renewed life all around us. In the biblical era, Pesach marked the 1st harvest, as grains and fruits ripened and our ancestors moved from a time of food scarcity to abundance. For those of us in the modern West, it is very easy to forget that much of the world still experiences these cycles of plenty and paucity because our own access to food depends primarily on money, and is only related to the seasons and the weather in limited ways.

The Pesach story mirrors this natural cycle, as the Jewish people transition from the hard winter of slavery to the redemptive and revelatory springtime experience of receiving the Torah (the Tree of Life) and entering the land of Israel. We refrain from eating, owning, or benefiting from leavened food for 8 days in order to remember and recreate the experience of moving from slavery to freedom and from scarcity to abundance. Instead of eating a nice, sugary, doughy Challah, we eat Lechem Oni (the bread of the poor, or the afflicted), to make sure that we taste at least a single instant of poverty during this time.

So why do we need to clean first? Why do we have to remove every single speck of bread-dust from our homes before we relive this experience?

The architects of Jewish observance were insightful experiential educators – they understood the enormous difference between empathizing with a person in need and actually feeling like you are in need yourself. We can’t possibly understand what it feels like to live through a season of scarcity from only week without bread. At the same time, this experience wouldn’t feel like scarcity at all without the removal of abundance. So we clean it all out, and once we remove the Chametz, we burn it, ensuring that we can’t get it back – it’s gone, and we are without…until spring comes around again.

Shabbat Shalom, Dan