Pesach: Freedom from Stuff

March 7, 2018

I love this time of year – in particular, the month leading up to Pesach.

It’s not that I don’t get stressed over preparations for the approaching holiday, because I do. I even get stressed over the articles that pop up telling us how not to be stressed. “Don’t worry; you don’t have to scrub your ceilings!” It actually never occurred to me to clean my ceilings for Pesach, and yet I still seem to have a lot to do… Maybe you could convince me I don’t have to clean my fridge or scrub oven racks? (Ok, to be honest, I don’t scrub oven racks; we have extras for Pesach. Shh.)

But even in the midst of all the stress, trying to remember what needs to be done and in which order and how long before Pesach…and uh oh, don’t forget to clean the car… Even with all that, there’s one part of it all that I really and truly love: Getting Rid of Stuff.

My husband and I share an aversion to throwing things away. We have a drawer dedicated to broken cameras and such, because we can’t handle the thought of putting them in the garbage. “It’s a perfectly good camera…except that it doesn’t work!” That’s been a longstanding refrain of ours, despite our being perfectly aware of how ridiculous it is. “They’re perfectly good chairs…well, perfectly good broken chairs… just don’t risk sitting on them!” (We did, eventually, throw away the very old, very broken chairs. But it was rough.) I get viscerally upset when my kids throw away the end of a banana, and remind them they should have offered it to me first. Our fridge and freezer are peppered with an assortment of small containers – leftover tomato sauce, soy milk, whatever (hopefully labeled and dated, because yuck) – because we couldn’t bring ourselves to either use more than strictly necessary for a dish, or throw away the excess. Because it’s perfectly good food, and maybe we’ll still use it. One day.

I could go on, but I’m probably causing readers with the opposite inclination to break out in hives or something. Here, you’ll like this part better:

The one time of year when I can handle it is in the weeks leading up to Pesach, when we focus on using what we can and then, finally, throw away what we can’t. Not the broken cameras, you understand, but all the pantry items I stocked up on when they were on sale, and then forgot about, and the similarly abandoned odds and ends in my fridge and freezer. I get great satisfaction out of planning meals between Purim and Pesach so that we use up the chametz gamur and all those little containers, and unlike any other time of year, I also get satisfaction from throwing away what can’t be used.

The bread crumbs get dumped on chicken every Shabbos. The thing in my freezer I can no longer identify, that was in my way for months as I wondered vaguely what it used to be and what I could turn it into, simply gets thrown in the garbage – where it perhaps should have gone long ago, had I not been holding onto false hopes of figuring out how to repurpose it into something edible.

As Nissan approaches, my mantra is “tashbitu,” get rid of it (Shemot 12:15). I yell it loud and clear, as I empty a box of pasta into a pot or drop expired yogurts in the garbage. Or, you know, eat a package of Oreos.

I’m well aware that it’s a luxury to be able to forget food because I have so much; I am thankful for that luxury, and I do still hate waste. I bag up the (somewhat) reasonable items containing kitniyos or chametz cooties (I’m pretty sure that’s a technical halachic term), for potential use after Pesach. But everything else must be eaten or gone. My fridge is clean; my pantry is clear. This one time of year, I make a point of assessing what I have, using what’s useful, and allowing myself to toss what’s not useful. I’m not holding onto the past, indulging fantasies for the future; instead, I’m starting over. My kitchen becomes a blank slate.

There are plenty of divrei Torah out there about chametz as a metaphor for this or that, and what lessons we can internalize (no pun intended) by replacing it with matzah over Pesach. But even before we get to the question of what we’re eating, I think the process of getting rid of all that chametz is a metaphor in itself. It’s a metaphor for freedom, for new beginnings.

People like to remind those they think are going overboard with Pesach preparations that “dirt is not chametz” and “Pesach cleaning is not spring cleaning.” To which I say, true, but it is dirt – don’t want that either – and what better time to do a little spring cleaning, if I can find the time, than in the spring? What’s the idea behind “spring cleaning” anyway? I would imagine it has something to do with a sense that springtime, when the snow starts to clear and things start to bloom, is a time for fresh starts. The dust and clutter has been accumulating through the winter, but now we’re ready to purge, to make our homes and ourselves fresh and clean, ready for something crisp and new.

And that, of course, is a perfect metaphor for what we’re celebrating on Pesach.

We tend to forget, in all the hype about Rosh Hashana, that we actually count our months from Nissan. The first of Tishrei is a new year, a time for introspection and renewal – but so is the first of Nissan. “This month shall be for you the beginning of months; it is the first, for you, of the months of the year” (Shemot 12:2). Nissan, the springtime, is the beginning of our national existence, marking the moment when we as a people shed the trappings of slavery and embarked on a fresh start, taking only the essentials – there’s a matzah-versus-chametz metaphor right there – on a journey to build themselves, with Hashem’s guidance, into something new.

And every year, during the weeks leading up to Pesach, each of us gets to do the same, starting with our pantries and refrigerators.

In Nissan, we examine our environments and free ourselves. We celebrate our freedom from slavery in Egypt on a national level, and we free ourselves as individuals from the things holding us back or just making us feel cluttered.  What do I have, and what do I really need? What can I get rid of, and with what might I best replace it after Pesach?

Starting with that little container of sauerkraut that came with my husband’s falafel, who knows how long ago, that was “probably still good” and “maybe he would eat it sometime.” It’s in the garbage now, and I don’t even feel guilty. It was a mitzvah; tashbitu!

I feel like a new woman already.



The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.