OK. I’m ready. I’ve cleansed myself of him. (Mr. Clean, Mr. Clean…)
On a more serious note, I’m curious about the metaphor of cleansing the house of chametz. It feels to me like we’re really talking about cleansing ourselves spiritually before we welcome the eight days of Passover. If that’s so (and I suspect it is), is this cleansing different from the cleansing that is done during the Yamim Noraim and if so, how? I’m not sure I know, and I’m not enough of a scholar to understand the nuances of these two rituals of cleansing.
To me, it feels like there’s a difference, in that the Passover cleansing feels somewhat less “life or death” than the rituals of purification in the post-Temple, post-sacrificial Judaism. In preparation for Passover, we are told, in Parashat Shemot (Exodus 12:15-20) that we should clean our houses of chametz on the first day, because anyone who eats chametz will be cut off from Israel. Harsh punishment for the eating, but, as I read it, not the cleaning. Are we asked to clean so that we aren’t tempted to eat the forbidden food? Is it the same as God’s warning to Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge? That we will be cut out of Israel, as they were cut out of the Garden of Eden? (I do see that, in a Biblical world, being cut off from Israel would be tantamount to death.)
In our cleansing during (and before) the Yamim Noraim, we are literally doing it to preserve our lives – to be inscribed and sealed in the God’s Book of Life. If we don’t do the required cleansing of our souls, if we don’t have the requisite introspection, cast our sins into the water, and atone enough on Yom Kippur, our lives may be cut short. Not cut out of Israel. Cut short. We may be cast aside by God because we have not adequately cleansed our souls. Mind you, I’m not really a believer in this Book of Life thing – not literally. But it’s a wonderful exercise in mindfulness, in cleansing, in starting afresh. There is a solemnity and ritual that in and of themselves are purifying.
Does the cleansing of our souls, of our spirits, during Pesach have the same function? I don’t think it does, for me. At least, it hasn’t. I’ve been pretty lax about the chametz cleanse in my house. I largely stick to the food restrictions, but I just put my chametz aside. It’s the way I was brought up. I haven’t cleaned with a feather, or burned my chametz, or donated it to a food bank.
I’m thinking that the metaphorical cleanse is a pretty neat idea. The mindful cleansing of my bloated, over-risen life. Maybe it’s time not to punch it down – too violent a thought – but to get rid of the virtual chametz that’s clogging my heart and soul.
Lots to think about here. Not lots of answers. At least not yet.
I’m participating this year in #blogExodus, a daily series of posts, tweets, and status updates relating to themes of Passover and Exodus, created by ImaBima. The series lasts for 14 days – not nearly as long as the Jews wandered in the desert all those years ago. You can find other posts via the #blogExodus hashtag.