Chasing Crumbs: The Life-changing Magic of Cleaning for Pesach

As I have been preparing my home for Pesach this year, I have felt that somehow I am cleaning up more chametz than ever before. 

Now, it’s true that crumbs are always a reality of life for families with young children, but the sheer volume of what I have been finding is unusual this year. No matter how many times I seem to run a vacuum or wipe down a surface, it seems like the crumbs have started multiplying of their own accord. It’s like playing a game of Pesach cleaning whack-a-mole. 

Where did all of these extra crumbs come from? 

If Pesach cleaning feels more challenging than usual this year, I suspect it is because we’re dealing with the accumulated detritus of a year lived in the pandemic. More time spent at home, especially over a particularly snowy winter, has meant more meals eaten at home, which means more post-meal cleanup. With no guests to look forward to I have even less motivation to keep up with the constant grind of cleaning. And, while attempting to parent while working from home, I’ve noticed a sharp drop in restrictions on where and how snacks can be eaten.

Even as I have lowered my expectations about finding every last Cheerio that might be lurking in a corner, I have found it extremely satisfying to watch the chametz being sucked up by my dustbuster. I would definitely not call myself a neat freak, but there is a distinct pleasure to be found in performing the mitzvah of biur chametz. 

Many of us are familiar with the Torah’s commandment to avoid leavened products and eat matzah throughout the Pesach holiday. But there is also a separate commandment to remove and destroy anything leavened in our homes. Ideally, according to Jewish tradition, this should be done by burning. 

Those who have the means often leave their homes on Pesach and spend the holiday at a resort or vacation home. This is certainly easier in many ways, but it also means missing out on one of the core observances and experiences of the holiday. You don’t have to go overboard to experience this as a meaningful exercise. In fact, I found something very freeing in focusing on the process itself, rather than the end result. 

There is so much about this past year that didn’t meet our hopes or expectations, so much that has been put on hold as we have struggled to contain the pandemic. In the process of preparing for this Pesach, I have tried to embrace the mitzvah of biur chametz as a way of letting go of the disappointments of the year that has passed and releasing the need to be perfect. Although Pesach cleaning has a reputation for inducing anxiety, it comes with a built-in mechanism for releasing ourselves from responsibility over that which we cannot control. After searching for and removing and destroying any chametz in our possession, we say the following formula: 

All chametz in my possession, whether I have seen it or not, whether I have removed it or not, whether I have destroyed it or not, is hereby nullified and ownerless as the dust of the earth.

We make our best effort, but even so, we acknowledge that there are factors out of our control and we might not have gotten everything. It’s a fact of Passover, and it’s a fact of the rest of the year, too. 

I know we all hope that this Pesach will be the beginning of a new season of freedom for all of us. I hope it can also be a reminder that we can find moments of joy and celebration when things don’t go as planned, too. 

Wishing you and your loved ones a Shabbat Shalom and a Chag Sameach v’Kasher

(Written March 26, 2021)