Spring cleaning has always been a Jewish thing. Except we call it Passover cleaning. It’s a good thing, at least occasionally, to take the cushions off the couch and vacuum up the crumbs, wipe off the shelves in the pantry, and empty out our pockets. As is the case with so much of Jewish observance, a good idea can become an obsession. I will never forget one year when the mikveh lady told me in January that she was busy with her Passover cleaning! I don’t care if the holidays are early or late, Passover is NEVER even close to January!
With Passover just 3 weeks away, it is definitely NOT too soon to be thinking about how we want to think about the holiday. As we plan seders and buy matzah, we might reflect on a deeper message of all of this shopping and cooking and cleaning. Is all of this preparation really necessary, or could we do something much more radically simple?
Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi used to tell this story of an encounter he had with Brother Rufus, a Native American medicine man. Reb Zalman and Brother Rufus were attending a conference of psychologists and mystics; the psychologists were studying the mystics. As Reb Zalman was explaining the Jewish festival of Sukkot, which occurs at the fall equinox, and the holiday of Passover, which comes at the spring equinox, Brother Rufus lit up! “Oh,” he said, “in the fall you teach your children the shelter survival and in the spring you teach them the food survival.”
What a fascinating perspective! Passover as the time when we simplify our diets down to the most basic foods- unleavened bread and bitter herbs. What is it that we need in order to survive? So I ask myself- why kosher for Passover potato chips? I think Brother Rufus was on to something- Passover essentially is supposed to teach us how to live with less, how to identify our most basic needs. It’s not supposed to be about obsessing about food and dishes and how we can replicate our lifestyle of the other 51 weeks a year during the one week of the holiday. We’ve made it SO much more complicated than it needs to be! To quote Rabbi Mari Chernow- “We can all learn something from the simple child.”
This year, especially, I’m thinking about the cultural phenomenon of Marie Kondo. Marie Kondo’s writing, and now a tv show, on the theme of “Tidying Up,” has had a massive influence. People are decluttering their homes to such an extent that Goodwill stores in many places have had to halt donations- they are overwhelmed! The cult of Kondo has turned “kondo” into a verb, as in, “This weekend I am kondo-ing my sock drawer.”
Obsession with simplifying is not healthy. Yet, Kondo has clearly struck a nerve. Too much of a good thing is too much, and we are so blessed with abundance that we no longer own our possessions, they own us. We spend our early years accumulating stuff, and our later years trying to figure out how to foist that stuff on others. For my generation, it has been a rude awakening that nobody wants our treasures. There is a lot of wisdom among millennials who are choosing simpler lifestyles and spending their time and money on experiences, not things.
Passover comes with a message of “Dayenu”- what is enough? How can we shift our focus from excessive consumption to greater simplicity? In Everyday Holiness Alan Morinis quotes the Vilna Gaon, who identified 3 levels of simplicity. The first is simply acquiring less. Next is to be happy with what we have. The highest level is to truly feel that we have everything we need. Perhaps not everything that we might want, but everything that we truly need. Perhaps we can use this holiday of Passover as a time to consider how we might simplify our lives and prioritize what is most important to us, shifting our focus from the acquisition of more and more stuff.
John Lennon said,
“All you need is love.” I’m not sure
that’s true, but, as we approach the holiday of Passover, I invite you to
consider that perhaps, “All you need is less.”
 Morinis, Alan, Everyday Holiness, MA: Trumpeter Books, 2007, pp. 119-122