The Passover experience has become an annual routine in our family, as fixed as the planets in their orbits, as steady as the sun which never fails to rise in the east.
My dear son, may he live and be well, started us on our Great Passover Odyssey. It all boils down to three words: Clean-In, Clean-Up, and Clean-Out.
"Ma," he said one fine day, "there's an enemy in your closet."
"Sure, dear," I replied. "The clothes that don't fit me since the 20 pounds I put on when I was pregnant with you and each of your brothers. Every one of them is an enemy, reminding me of failed diets, great restaurants, and parties."
"No, Ma," said David, patiently. "The clothes are not your enemy. The name of your enemy is chametz, and it's lurking around the house." "Lurking?!" I shouted. "Nothing lurks without my knowing about it in this house. I forbid anything to lurk! If you see anything lurking, just let me know and I'll give it a sets with the broom."
I was rather proud of my outburst. Little did I know how true this bit of theatrics was going to prove. In my naivete‚ I carried on with all sorts of phrases like: "Just show me this phantom chametz [leaven], son!" So that is just what my patient little son did.
David proceeded to shake my trenchcoat upside down. Out came three pennies, two cough drops, the cellar door key, a barely recognizable hamantash, one remarkably intact cracker, my mother's telephone number, and a dry cereal coupon. I had to admit that was impressive.
Next, the kid went for my shoes. "What possible chametz can lurk in the soles of my shoes?" I wondered. After managing to dislodge the inner sole and some dust and nothing else remotely chametz, the kid looked a little sheepish. "Well, you never know, Ma," he said. Next he went for his father's hat. I watched in utter amazement as David dislodged a stick of gum from the hat band! It was even in its wrapper. Wow! Now I was face-to-face with the enemy.
We went through the piano, the guitar, the bookcases, the dressers, the couch, the crib, the box springs, the car, the stove, the stairs, the refrigerator, the stamp collection, the seashells, the button box, the toy chest, the U-Name-It, and we cleaned it up and out.
When the enemy had been met and disposed of to my son's satisfaction, we went out shopping for Passover. After a long day's work I felt very righteous, albeit overwhelmed by it all. We loaded the car with every imaginable Kosher-for-Passover product that the kosher grocery store had. Then we proceeded to the supermarket to get those items that the grocery didn't have, and shopped with glee. I must have spent over $300 that afternoon. I had blurred visions of matzas dancing with macaroons in my head. I walked like a zombie to the car trunk to fit in four more bags of Passover stuff. I was happily daydreaming of a good seder and a good sleep (and not-so-happily dreaming of my husband discovering our low checking account) when a woman with a package approached me for a ride home.
The woman pointed in the opposite direction from where I was headed. Normally I'm a good natured sort, willing to give someone a hand whenever I can. But here I was, tired and overworked, suffering from combat fatigue.
"Sorry," I said, "I can't help you." I proceeded to drive home. My son turned to look at me with big soulful eyes.
"What?" I said, feeling his eyes bore into me. "Did I forget to buy something essential?" "Ma, you don't get it," he said gently. "That woman who asked you for a ride...you left her standing in the road. We have to remember those who are less fortunate." I tried to explain to my son that it is good to do a mitzva, but I was so tired and worn out from shopping for Passover. "But, Mom," he said, "every mitzva we do helps bring Moshiach and the Redemption, and what is Passover without redemption?"
I felt the tears come down. They ran down both cheeks, and they were hot. A young child had just reinforced something that my grandmother (may she rest in peace) once said to me on Passover. "It's not how well you clean, how much money you spend, how long you prepare, how shiny the silver, how elaborate the seder, how hard you work. It's who you are. You are a Jew and a Jew does kindness." I turned the car around, went back to give the woman a ride, and moved a step closer to the Redemption.
Reprinted from the Holiday Consumer, a publication of N'Shei Chabad of Rockland County, New York.