By Mordechai Schmutter
Every year when you clean for Pesach, the same question occurs to you: “Should I start cleaning even earlier next year?”
This is the only yom tov for which people want to go beyond the 30-day thing. No one says, “Maybe we should start building the sukkah over the summer,” or “Why can’t I start being marbin b’simcha on the 11th of Teves?” or “I need to start doing teshuvah on Shushan Purim; 30 days is nowhere near enough for me,” or “I think I have to start eating way more than 30 days before a fast!” Generally, 30 days is more than enough. The only other yom tov that we really lean into prep time is Simchas Torah.
“You know, if we want to do this again next year, we have to lein Bereishis tomorrow. No, we can’t give a full week for the kids to learn it in yeshiva. As it is, we have to double up some of the parshiyos.”
But 30 days is not enough for Pesach. As it is, you’ve already been cheating—starting more than 30 days before—and you still don’t have enough time. You have this standard of how clean you want the house to be, and you start off cleaning very thoroughly—brushing off every item, shaking out every sefer—and then you realize that there’s one week until Pesach and you still have 61 shelves left in the kitchen, all of which you’re going to tape up for Pesach anyway, plus every time you clean a new area of the house, you find a pile of stuff that has to go in areas you’ve already cleaned and organized and that don’t have room for a single new item, and the whole system breaks down.
But maybe if you started earlier…
It’s easy to make these resolutions now, though. You won’t necessarily remember them next year, because Pesach does something to your memory. I don’t know if this is a real thing, but I call it “Pesach amnesia.” Like when you’re cleaning for Pesach and you find something, and you’re like, “I forgot I have this! I’ll start using it after Pesach!” And then Pesach comes and goes, and not only do you forget to use it, you forget that you have it, and you go through this scene again next year.
“Pesach amnesia.” It’s also why, when Pesach is over, you forget what you used to do with your days before you spent them getting ready for Pesach, and why your kids repeat the same divrei Torah that they already said last year, both nights, and why you forget things you did from Pesach to Pesach. “What did we do last year? Did we just eat potatoes?” “Do we sit or stand for this?” “When do we usually pour the cup?” This is also why you almost forget to count the Omer every single night even though you do it for 49 nights in a row.
But how long before Pesach can you really start cleaning anyway? You might say, “Oh, I can clean a lot of things!” But you’re going to end up re-cleaning them.
This is because the obvious downside to cleaning early is that everyone in your family is going to mess it up. As it is, if you tell your kids to clean their room even two weeks before Pesach, you work with them for hours—mostly folding clothes and finding wrappers that belong to no one—and then finally, they’re like, “Look, Mommy! It’s clean!” And you say, “Great!” And you walk out to get a sign that you can post saying that it’s clean, and you come back in and it’s a mess again. Worse than before you started.
“What?! It was clean!”
“Wait, so it has to stay clean until Pesach?”
Pesach amnesia affects kids as well.
Not to mention guests. You don’t want to be one of those people who never lets anyone eat anywhere in the house except the dining room. If you tell your guests Chanukah-time, “Don’t eat in your room; we already cleaned it,” they’re going to stop coming for Shabbos. Because in general, if I’m a guest in your house, I am eating in your guest room. That’s the plan. I brought nosh for the car, I didn’t finish it in the car, and I didn’t bring enough for everybody.
But I guess if you have a spot in the house that your kids are scared to go into alone, such as the basement, you can clean that a little bit earlier. Or the attic. All the places that there is probably no chametz anyway. The higher bookshelves! But not the guest room.
But, for example, you can’t say, “Today’s a nice day; let me clean my car.” Your kids don’t go into the car without you, right? So that should be fine.
It isn’t. Cleaning your car before Purim is a rookie mistake. But even afterward, if you drive school carpools, you can’t clean the car until after the last day of yeshiva, which is why the yeshivas give so many days off before yom tov. Perhaps too many. It’s not so the kids can help clean, apparently. It’s so you can get your car clean in time to actually use it for your Pesach groceries. You can’t stop other people’s kids from eating in your car when your eyes are on the road and they suddenly realize that they have an entire day’s worth of snacks they forgot to eat. Plus they had their “Everyone Send in Chametz They Want to Get Rid of” party that day, and they just remembered that all that stuff is in their knapsacks. In bags that are upside-down.
But yes, I suppose you can clean early, though people won’t really understand. If you clean too early, you don’t really have enough time in any given day to get anything done, because cleaning is very time-consuming, and people expect you to honor your commitments, and if it’s close to Pesach, you can say, “I was cleaning for Pesach,” and they’ll understand. But imagine Chanukah time, someone’s like, “Where were you? I was trying to reach you all day!” and you say, “Oh, I was cleaning for Pesach.” Or they ask, “How come you didn’t come to my thing?” “I was cleaning for Pesach!” That sounds like a sarcastic answer that somebody would give if he didn’t want to go to their thing. Even though it’s the honest truth. It doesn’t matter; you can only use that excuse in that last month.
In fact, it happens to be that if anyone makes a simcha between Purim and Pesach, they make it a point to apologize to everyone. Like “I’m making a bris, but I’m sorry it’s at an inconvenient time for everybody. I totally understand if you don’t come.” Like you feel bad for other people that you had a baby, because they have to come down for a couple of hours in the morning.
But no one is at all apologetic about making a simcha any other time of year. Even though you, personally, might be cleaning. So yeah, society actually rewards pushing this off.
In fact, maybe you should push off your cleaning every year to even closer to Pesach than it is, and then I guess do all of your cooking after Pesach for the next Pesach while the kitchen is still Pesachdik. Provided you don’t mind eating food that’s been in the freezer for a year. And tying up both of your freezers indefinitely. And then, at whatever point in the year you feel like it, you can tell people, “What, you haven’t started cooking for Pesach? I’m done!” You can be done. Freeze your salt water!
Unless maybe you do a little bit of cleaning every day for the entire year—like one drawer a day or something—and live your whole life for Pesach, kind of like Shamai or “Yosef Mokir Shabbos,” who every day did something for Shabbos. You can be like “Shrpintzy Mokir Pesach,” who every time she found a strong chemical, she would buy it and say, “This is for Pesach cleaning!”
The issue is that if you start cleaning for Pesach too early (or bragging about having your cooking done too early) people will think you’re crazy. Yet for some reason, you can make plans for six Shabbosos from now, and no one will bat an eye. Even if you don’t have plans yet for this coming Shabbos. You don’t even have to go in order. But try telling people you’re cleaning for even two Pesachs from now. For some reason, no one’s going to admire you, or say, “Hey, it’s like Yosef Mokir Shabbos!” No one’s going to write songs about you:
“Let me tell you folks the tale of a woman named Tzipporah,
Who started Pesach cleaning the night after Simchas Torah.
She started with the kitchen, before one could even blink,
And for six months they ate all their chametz meals over the sink.
Her neighbors said, ‘You’re crazy!’ Her siblings said, ‘A nut!’
Her husband, he was smart enough to keep his big mouth shut.”
(From Tzipporah Mokir Pesach)
Anyway, in case you’re wondering, the song ends with a wealthy gentile losing a huge pickup truck full of chametz that he bought off the entire neighborhood to a huge wind that blows it all over her property.
“And Tzipporah gave a scream that could be heard from Indonesia,
But then she did the same next year, because she had Pesach amnesia.”
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of seven books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com. Read more of Mordechai Schmutter’s articles at 5TJT.com.