Like so many children, Pesach was my favourite holiday. Some of my fondest memories revolve around the seder. As an adult, not much has changed—save for the fact that I am aware that for many, especially women, Pesach is their least-favourite holiday. Why? Because they spend an entire month on cleaning, cleaning and more cleaning. This is sad and unnecessary.
The Talmud teaches that all—even the Sefer Torah in the ark— depends on mazal, luck. Some mitzvot are widely (even excessively) observed, while other, often more-important mitzvot languish. Pesach has much mazal amongst all segments of the Jewish community. And for observant Jews, bedikat chametz may have the greatest mazal of all—but often at a terrible cost.
The concept of checking for chametz is “only” rabbinically mandated. The nullification of chametz, biur chametz, ensures that we do not violate the prohibition of owning chametz on Pesach. The rabbis added the practice of bedikah as a precaution, lest we accidently come to eat chametz on Pesach. There really is no need to check under the fridge, between the car seats, or behind the bookcase for some inedible crumb that one could not eat even if one wanted to. The first Mishna in tractate Pesachim teaches, “any place that one does not enter with chametz needs no checking”. The example used in the Mishna is that of a wine cellar, where Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel dispute the degree to which it needs to be checked. As people were wont to retrieve wine during a meal, the reasoning went, there was a fear that bread might be found in the cellar. Yet even the strictest opinion, that of Beit Shammai, rules that we only need check a small fraction of the cellar—just the rows nearest the entryway. Beit Shammai’s opinion is not even the one that was accepted by halachah; we follow the even more lenient view of Beit Hillel that requires an even smaller area be checked.
This excessive cleaning stems from a wonderful desire to be most meticulous in our observance of Pesach. But everything, even the performance of mitzvot, may come at a cost. One has only so much spiritual energy, and using it all up cleaning for Pesach leaves little for the holiday itself.
The basic mitzvah of any Yom Tov—and Pesach is the first of the Yamim Tovim—is simcha, to rejoice. One must look forward to Yom Tov with great joy, anticipation and happiness. So much so, that our rabbis forbade eulogies for 30 days before Yom Tov lest our joy be diminished during the festival. Dreading the onset of Pesach, or feeling exhausted by the time the seder rolls around, is not the Torah’s idea of simcha. Why not divert some of the time and energy spent in unnecessary cleaning to learning some of the many beautiful commentaries to the Haggadah?