By Yochanan Gordon
Pesach is a universal yom tov. There is a role for everyone in preparation for it. While cleaning is the call of the hour, I have this feeling that the search for chametz, which Chazal prescribe for this time of year, was more targeted than what seems to be a simple spring cleaning.
Chametz is leavened bread, which we need to rid from our midst as the yom tov of Pesach approaches. However, the search for chametz has to be done on multiple levels simultaneously, in the literal sense as well as in the figurative, moral sense, such as ridding ourselves of haughtiness and the vices that enslave our souls from attaining their true potential. It’s the latter form of cleanup that distressed many luminaries of the previous generations and kept them up all night, searching apartments that couldn’t even pass for what we refer to today as a studio apartment.
I always wondered what took them so long. And why the tears and sweat? It reminds me of a story that I heard from the late Rabbi Mordechai Berg, who was the rav in Congregation Ateres Rosh in Wesley Hills, Monsey, where my in-laws daven, before he succumbed to an illness that claimed his life at a premature age. Around this time of year, he’d reminisce about his early married years as a mechanech in Bnei Brak where, despite his meager means, he’d invariably paint his kitchen every Pesach at his wife’s behest, as she was concerned that there may be chametz that they could not get to. He once remarked to his wife that there was barely any money to put bread on the table, and she’s worried about bread on the ceiling and walls?
The modern cleaning craze is a bit of a perversion of what our sages mandated, but I guess it’s a minhag Yisrael, which is nonetheless holy. Having said that, though, it’s important not to lose sight of the more profound application of this mitzvah and to enter into Pesach with a liberated conscience and moral compass, ready to leave our own personal Egypt in our quest to receive the Torah anew. In a funny way, perhaps this explains the juxtaposition between Pesach and tax season, but I’ll leave it at that.
I came across a teshuvah of the Chasam Sofer which gave me a chuckle the other day. Apparently, the Chasam Sofer received a letter, a halachah she’eilah, to which he was in the midst of responding while his wife and the other women in the house were cleaning up in preparation for Pesach. He apologized to the letter-writer that he wasn’t able to expound at greater length on the given topic as the righteous women had removed him from his study in order to clean for the upcoming holiday. It was refreshing to see that not even the Chasam Sofer was free of these unsettling realities.
Having said that, it seems like everything has turned into an industry. I’m referring to ca washes before Pesach. There are certain people who advertise home car washes. They come to your home or office and for a flat fee of $45 or $50, depending on the size of your vehicle, they wash and get rid of the chametz in the cracks and crevices of the vehicle. I applaud their entrepreneurship carvin out a convenient spin on a practice that is done routinely this time of year. They are generally yeshiva guys looking to put a few bucks in their pockets, and if that works, I say to go for it. It’s the regular car wash guys with whom I have a bone to pick at this time of year.
It’s interesting that on any other given day you could drive into a car wash, and if you’re looking to spend money and clean your car the right way, inside and out, the most you’ll spend is $35. For that $35 they’ll vacuum every conceivable space and throw in a little shampoo to boot. Drive into the same car wash before Pesach and you’re not spending a dollar less than $75. Another interesting phenomenon is that the same wash that costs $35 on any other day of the year takes at least a half-hour longer before Pesach, and not because there’s a line.
If you drive in and request a Pesach special and the price for that cleaning is $75, I got it. But if you ask the guy for the $35 wash, which, according to the menu seems to cover all the bases, they’ll respond that they are not offering that at the moment or that the $35 wash was downgraded in scope and will not suffice for a pre-Pesach cleaning. So while the guys are slobbering over your car with sponge, gloves and soap suds, cleaning your tires with Armor All that will come right off the moment you pull out of the driveway, the thing that seems to be liberated in the car wash is your money.