By Jaime Sherman
“When does Passover begin?” asked the youngest of five sisters in Sydney Taylor’s book All-of-a-Kind Family.
“In less than a week,” replied Mama.
“Oh, goody!” said Gertie. But, oh dear me! thought Mama. Less than a week and so much had to be done to get ready. Throughout the Festival of Passover, which lasts eight days, no bread of leavened foods may be eaten. In the days just before Passover, Jewish people thoroughly clean their homes to remove all traces of such leaven.
It was in this section of a beloved childhood favorite published in 1951 that I first learned about the Jewish tradition of spring cleaning, the top-to-bottom scouring of every room in the home with the sole purpose of ridding it of every crumb touched by leaven. The time-intensive practice is called kashering and follows the command to the Israelites in the first part of Exodus 12:15 that “on the first day (of the feast) you shall remove leaven out of your houses.”
Kashering and the eating of unleavened bread during the Feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread allows the Jewish people to remember how their kinsman escaped Egypt in haste with their kneading bowls before the dough was leavened. Devout Jews spend up to a month preparing for Passover, scouring every surface from tables and chairs to floorboards and windows with boiling water and soap to remove all traces of leaven.
In the modern kitchen, a bowl of water must boil in the microwave for 20 minutes to clean the appliance, while all the stovetop burners and the oven must be turned on to the highest temperature for more than an hour to burn away all leaven. Dishes, pots, pan, and linens used throughout the year are replaced with items from the Passover cupboard.
Once a room is thoroughly swept and scrubbed, it is declared free of leaven and no eating is allowed in that room until after Passover. New clothes are purchased, or old clothes are sent to the dry cleaner. The seder handbook, which is called the Haggadah, is taken from the cupboard, where it has been wrapped in plastic to only ever be used at the leaven-free table.
Following God’s instruction in Exodus 12:15 to the Israelites to remove all leaven from their homes, He emphasizes the seriousness of His command, saying, “…for if anyone eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day (of the feast), that person shall be cut off from Israel.”
I wonder if the Israelite women fretted over their cleaning rituals for fear of bringing reproach upon their families if they failed. One look under my refrigerator and stove, inside my refrigerator and freezer, and even under my children’s beds and drawers reveals to me the simple truth that bread crumbs are scattered throughout my home, especially in places I can’t reach with everyday sweeping and vacuuming. Nearly every time I turn around from a household chore, I face a new mess created by one of my six children, so when I imagine myself charged with these spring cleaning rituals and the final search for leaven (Bedikat Chametz), my heart begins to race. If I was called upon to rid my home of even the smallest crumb of leaven, I would fail year after year. I would be cut off from the nation of Israel if that crumb was consumed during Passover.
Then I see it. I would fail at this impossible task, and that’s the point. In New Testament writings, leaven symbolizes sin.
Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.I Corinthians 5:6-8
With just as a speck of yeast, an entire lump of dough is leavened. Nothing can reverse that first touch of yeast to flour and water. So with sin, I can do nothing of my own accord, good works or personal sacrifices, to reverse the stain of sin upon my life. Just as the Israelites needed lamb’s blood painted on the doorposts and lintels of their homes to escape the angel of death on the night of Passover, so I need the blood of Jesus Christ, the final, sacrificial lamb, to cover my sins and knit me into His kingdom for eternity.
While I am under no religious obligation to undertake a spring cleaning of my home in preparation for Passover, Good Friday, and Resurrection Sunday, I see the beauty and joy in the arduous and impossible task of cleaning my home from top to bottom this spring.
As stubborn stains refuse to lift with bleach and scrubbing, I will see how impossible it is for me to erase the stain of my own sin. I need the blood of Jesus to cover me, making me white as snow (Isaiah 1:18).
As I repeatedly plunge my hands into soapy water, I will recount how Jesus washed away my sin. I am a new creation in Him not defined by my sin but as His child. I can draw near to Him “with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with (my) heart sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and (my) body washed with pure water” (Hebrew 10:22).
As I think I’ve finished sweeping a room only to find a new trail of dirt and dust littering the floor, I can choose patience, not frustration, remembering that this side of heaven I will wrestle with sin. The process of sanctification, even though it is often frustrating, is a gift to make me more and more like the spotless Lamb of God. So, I will cry out in this season of preparation, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).
For some Christians, the days leading up to Easter include other traditions of remembering Jesus on the cross as our Lamb of Passover, dying in our place to take the penalty of our sin. Lent, which began this year on March 2 with Ash Wednesday and runs through Easter week, is a modern Christian practice of daily reflecting on Jesus’ love for humankind through His death and resurrection. The 40 days of Lent symbolize Jesus’ 40 days in the desert before He began His public ministry. Because Jesus fasted and prayed during this time, the lenten season is characterized by various fasts and other forms of self-denial to keep one’s eyes fixed on Jesus. For many people, this spring season of remembering includes a commitment to prayer, both of self reflection and confession and for others who are desperate for hope in our war-torn and weary world. Excellent resources abound to guide you through the lenten season, including some we have published at ufcwomen.blog in the past few years and our current study of the seven feasts of the Jewish calendar.