Sinai Synagogue, Shabbat AM, April 20, 2019
Rabbi Michael Friedland
Every year I learn something from cleaning for Pesah.
This year I realized that cleaning for Pesah teaches us to accept life as it comes.
What do I mean?
When I begin to clean for Pesah, I begin with an ambitious plan: I will not just clean out the hametz but I will use this opportunity to clean parts of the house that never get cleaned. Since I am cleaning the house anyway lets really clean! For example, the armoire in the dining room with glass shelves, filthy with years of accumulated dust. Get the windex!
And I won’t just clean the floor, I am going to pull out the oven and clean all that shmutz in the crevice next to the oven that I can see but can’t reach. I will move furniture to clean the dirt as opposed to sweeping the dirt under it.
But then – reality hits. First cleaning is unpleasant and I hate doing it. Two weeks before Pesah I realize that my cleaning goals require at least a month or two. Plus there is shopping and seder prep and Haggadah review and kashering. And there is still regular work responsibilities. And inevitably someone pulls a calf muscle, or gets sick with fever or whatever just before Pesah.
And pretty soon I say to myself: Ok, maybe no non-necessary Pesah cleaning. Just clean every room for possible hametz. No cleaning glass shelves, no cleaning crevices that require taking apart furniture. And a little later I think, “Do I really need to clean every room in the house? I mean how many rooms did I really eat in?” And as Pesah bears down on me, I admit, “You know, if I sell my hametz and I say the nullification of Hametz (recited the morning before Pesah and found in every haggadah) really, how much cleaning needs to be done at all? And so I end up sweeping the floor, kashering the self cleaning oven overnight , wiping the counters and ‘we’re good’.
It’s the same in life. We start out with such high ideals, we will transform the world! And then reality hits. Changing the world is put off when our children need us to change their diapers. Maybe the job we thought we would get or the job we did get was not what we wanted. Perhaps unanticipated illness or some other unforeseen development occurred in our life and we had to adjust for this unexpected change. And pretty soon we realize that if we still insist that our original goals must remain our essential goals, all we do is make ourselves miserable. As we live our lives, we need to adjust our ultimate goals. Life is to be accepted on its terms and we need to be able to modify, adapt, change as our life experiences impact on who we are. It will not do to pursue goals of an imagined life that was never to be.
It is then that we need to focus on what is most important and what has always been most important to us. On Pesah, reliving and reviewing the story and its meaning for us as Jews, transmitting it to our children, savoring family time and traditions, keeping the core mitzvot of Pesah, this is what is most essential. Clean out the hametz yes, but puncture the pressure of cleaning dusty glass shelves.
In life as well, what is essential to our souls that led us to create the original goals we sought? Let us come to understand that motivation and then recalibrate our life’s mission to pursue those goals in real time and with realistic expectations.
When the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, it was dirty and muddy. They must have exited the seabed looking the worse for wear. But they were liberated. The goal was met, maybe not as cleanly as they imagined. May we remember what is the essence of our mission in life and appreciate what measure of that we can achieve.