Two weeks to two months before Passover, we go on the hunt for chametz. We clean every corner of the house, we move the fridge and stove, we clean under chairs and couches, we dig deep inside the crevices of our furniture. In some communities, we scrub meticulously every surface, crevice, and crack we can find.
In some communities, in the month before Passover, you can find perfectly good used furniture left outside near the garbage pick up. This is because if you are thinking of buying any new furniture, this is the best time of year to do it. Simply, it’s one less thing to clean. It’s easier.
But is this good enough?
In Jewish law, any chametz the size of a large olive must be removed from our possession.
But then why, as one author put it, are we driven to remove the mouthpiece of the (old fashioned) telephone to remove any possible microscopic bits of chametz we may have spit from our mouths while talking?
What is it all about?
Many, if not most, rabbis distinguish between cleaning for Passover and spring cleaning. One is necessary and the other is optimal. A well-known concept in the laws of Passover states that any nonfood chametz product that isn’t “fit for a dog to eat” isn’t a concern for us humans as well. Yet often, spring cleaning and Passover cleaning are rolled into one ritual. Instead of halving the work and the stress, the stress of these herculean tasks is often doubled.
Where is the joy?
With Marie Kondo’s method of decluttering newly reintroduced to American audiences, many adults are ridding themselves of possessions in order to bring joy back into their lives.
Yet I often see women especially not able to enjoy the current season, or Purim for that matter, because they are so anxious and worried about Passover. With Passover, and the threat of a chametz-contaminated-home, looming on the horizon, the holiday itself loses its beauty and joy.
This is true for many people, not only with those anxiety disorders or OCD.
Passover, anxiety, and OCD
For people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Passover can be extra challenging because of the obsessive and anxious nature of their thoughts. Like most Jewish events and holidays, Passover comes with required religious observances. But for a person with OCD, Passover cleaning can dramatically exacerbate symptoms. This is because of the religious importance of the holiday and the nature of Passover preparations.
If there are perceived high stakes, such as religious importance, the potential for anxiety increases. For example, those suffering from OCD may repeatedly clean and check the house for chametz in response to obsessive thoughts about cleaning and adhering to the strictures of Passover.
The nature of obsessive thoughts is to repeat themselves and it is difficult to find a resolution. When this happens, in order to reduce anxiety, one often feels compelled to continue cleaning again and again. This compulsion to clean repetitively is extreme and beyond what rabbis consider necessary to meet religious requirements.
Don’t assume it’s OCD
If obsessive anxious behavior only occurs around Passover, it’s not OCD. It is likely that because Passover only occurs once a year, we haven’t really stopped to think about what we are, and what we are not comfortable with.
If you really struggle to survive the pre-Passover season, reaching out for help, whether that means practical help in the home or mental health support from a licensed professional, is recommended.
Tips on how to relax and keep your perspective
Remember, often when we want to do our very best, Jewish Law is more gentle and sane than the ideas we come up with ourselves. Let us revisit the idea of the forbidden quantity of Chametz, an amount equivalent to the size of a large olive, and then consider the act of unscrewing the mouthpiece of the telephone.
If we feel we may be overwhelming ourselves to the point that we could lose our ability to participate in the observance or celebration of Purim or Passover due to our exhaustive cleaning efforts, we should remember to be gentle with ourselves and seek out help when necessary.
You can enjoy Passover this year. Call today to make an appointment for therapy in Brooklyn, or just fill out the contact form and click Send.Please share this post!