From JWT’s Season 7 Salon, Uncuffed.
I am cleaning for Pesach.
This is a benign euphemism. Actually, I am down on my hands and knees, sweat pouring into my eyes. I am scrubbing an obstinate stain at the back of the oven, prior to putting it on a self-cleaning cycle that will leave my house smelling like a nuclear waste dump for 24 hours.
Why, oh why, oh why do I put myself through this every year?
Well, I was brought up doing it and now I’m a rabbi, and therefore it is part of the choice that I have made about how to live. But – and I ask myself this every year – why does that mean I should be in rubber gloves at this point, in some kind of parody of everywoman?
I have studied the meaning of Pesach, and in our ancestral land no less. I have the authority to rule for myself and my community about what is hametz and what is not. So I ask again – why am I on my knees? Why should my practice be dictated by a bunch of ancient men? Give me my tambourine and let me dance by the Red Sea. It’s the festival of freedom, dammit.
And yet. I think of my mother and my grandmother and all of the women who came before me, and I realize that they, too, are part of my story. I think of the Seder table that will be set at the end of all this work, with its old wine-stained books, the slightly mis-matching Pesah china, the tiny silver goblets that my family rescued after their London flat suffered a direct hit in the Blitz.
And as I visualize these things, I begin to smile. And I remember a quote from the Talmud: It was only due to the merit of righteous women that the children of Israel were redeemed from Egypt. Perhaps all this preparation, all this muddle, is part of the ongoing narrative of those righteous women, of the transformation of slavery into freedom, another way to re-live the master story of my people.
I remind myself that the Hebrew word avodah means both ‘work’ and ‘sacred service.’
But now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to clean behind the fridge.