With all due respect to exercise enthusiasts, I think the person who coined the expression, “no pain, no gain,” probably thought of it while preparing for Passover. It may have taken me almost thirty years, but, thank G-d, the “gain” may have finally overtaken the “pain.” I still have remnants of the lump in my throat from the other day when I started cleaning for the holiday.
With all due respect to Passover, like everything Jewish, if I view it negatively, the failing is mine, not G-d’s. In my early years of cleaning for Passover, I was told that once upon a time in the shtetl, people simply wiped off their table and chairs, picked up the mats they slept on, swept the concrete floor of their humble home, and Passover cleaning was finished. It wasn’t fair to blame G-d for the fact that my kids took food upstairs. As much as I understood this perspective in my early Passover-making years, I didn’t care. Okay, so the failing was mine. I still disliked Passover. The fact was, I had “no life” in the weeks when I was getting ready for Passover, and in the early days, I was still fighting for one. I wasn’t wrong to think that any crusty substance on a toy or table was potentially chometz, the leavened grain product forbidden on Passover, but the scrupulous elimination of it all seemed beyond my capability. I tried to appreciate the spiritual corollary of Passover cleaning–that I was eliminating my own arrogance (analogous to “puffed up” bread) in order to become humble (like”flat” matzah) to truly appreciate G-d–but for several years, it backfired. Passover was when I “felt myself” more than ever. And it wasn’t always pretty.
We even named the storage room in our old house, “The Broken Bowl Room,” to immortalize what happened there. I blocked out the details; I just remember that I promised myself I would never get angry at my kids like I did when they broke that expensive bowl (the one we put away so it wouldn’t break) while I was trying to clean for Passover. (So far, I haven’t.)
Something had to change and I knew it had to be me. I was committed to Chabad life in its entirety and the Passover package was part of it, every year whether I liked it or not. There’s some anxiety surrounding Passover still, but the anger and resentment slowly disappeared and are now long gone.
The other day, there was a different feeling entirely.
It was the first day in many months that was both sunny and warm in Pittsburgh and I was feeling like I had just been freed from a hard winter’s prison. What could I do outside to celebrate this moment? I realized I could start my Passover cleaning by taking the toys outside to wash them. Adding to my excitement was the fact that I had even gotten my marching orders on what to actually do: my husband Zev had recently suggested we finally get rid of the toys that were broken, missing parts or just plain disgusting.
Sorting through the collection, I found a large plastic castle that had been around for years. It was dirty but perfectly intact. I took it outside to give it a thorough cleaning; I wanted to restore whatever dignity I could.
As I carefully wiped each surface, my thoughts began to wander.
Which child decided to draw on the turrets?
How many kings and queens have been imagined in here?
I felt a lump in my throat as I thanked G-d for my children.
Then I thought: my children’s toys are now my grandchildren’s toys.
I didn’t think about this “gain” when I started cleaning for Passover so many years ago.
Then again, I didn’t think about a lot of things back then, mostly, how fast the time would go once the kids grew up, and how grateful I would be that I never allowed the “pain” to stop me.