Michal jumped up from the park bench. “I really must go,” she exclaimed, making a big production of looking at her watch. “See you, gals.”
That’s strange, Shoshi mused, I thought Michal said she had no particular plans today. She turned her gaze from Michal’s quickly retreating figure in time to see Ruti approaching with her stroller. Ahh, that explained it.
“Hello, Ruti,” Shoshi said, not without trepidation. “Where’s Dani?”
“He’s in playgroup. I decided I need my mornings now, you know.”
Shoshi knew. She just had to stop Ruti before it would be too –
“Shevat is here!” Ruti burst out joyfully. “You know what that means. Time to start Pesach cleaning!”
Chana rolled her eyes. “Cut it out, Ruti. We were all enjoying ourselves before you came. We have a good two months before Pesach; let’s spend them in peace.”
“Now there’s where you’re wrong, Chana,” Ruti began. Shoshi practically knew the coming conversation by heart. Every year Ruti would regale them with advice and suggestions for Pesach cleaning, which they ignored. “I just love to clean for Pesach! It’s a mitzvah that comes only once a year.”
“Years ago, when I was first married, I started cleaning for Pesach the day after Purim, and thought I was organized.” Ruti looked earnestly at Chana and Shoshi. “There I’d be at 2:00 in the morning, scrubbing kitchen cabinets, eyes closing, falling off my feet, wondering how to function the next day. I thought that all Jewish women stayed up until strange hours, and that complaining about Pesach cleaning was part of life. Boruch Hashem, I met a neighbor who changed my life. She said the trick is to start Pesach cleaning early, in Shevat, and do a little each day. Start with one drawer far from the kitchen, in the bedroom, for example. Gradually get closer to the kitchen as Pesach gets nearer.”
“Uh, Ruti, isn’t it time to get Dani?” Shoshi asked. Ruti glanced at her watch, then reluctantly steered her stroller out of the park.
When Shoshi arrived home and tucked Dovid in for a nap, she realized she had a good hour until the other children came home. Maybe she’d actually clean out a drawer. She drifted to the bedroom, and could hear in her mind Ruti’s instructions from last year.
“Start from the top and work your way down,” she’d said. “This way, any crumbs won’t get into what you’ve already cleaned.” Shoshi removed the first drawer from the dresser and dumped out the contents. She wiped out the little dust and unidentifiable specks, and neatly refilled the drawer. The next drawer held sweaters and turtlenecks. Ruti’s voice echoed in Shoshi’s head. “As long as you’re going through your things, get rid of what you no longer wear.” Here was a teal-colored silk sweater Shoshi bought ages ago. Ever since bleach spilled on it, she’d stopped wearing it. The bleach spots meant she couldn’t pass it on to anyone either, so into the “garbage” pile!
The next day, Ruti was expounding on “Pesach Cleaning Made Organized” when her cell phone rang. “Hello? Yes oy, I’ll get him now.” Ruti closed her phone and explained, “It’s Dani’s playgroup. He just threw up. Hope it’s just a virus.” She hurried out of the park towards the playgroup. The other ladies stifled their sighs of relief at Ruti’s departure.
That evening after the children went to bed, Shoshi found she could squeeze in an hour of cleaning before tackling the dishes. This is kind of relaxing, she thought to herself, as she sifted through the items in the last drawer. I can’t believe it – I never sent my parents or in-laws the photos from Dovid’s last birthday! I’m actually enjoying myself, but, Shoshi stubbornly decided, I’m sure not going to tell Ruti about it!
The next week, Ruti didn’t show up at the park. Concerned, Shoshi called to ask how Dani was. “He’s running around,” Ruti answered. “I’m keeping him home a drop longer so he won’t get the other kids sick, though.”
“Anything you need?” asked Shoshi.
“Well, Dani’s getting tired of his toys. You have some we can borrow?”
That afternoon, Shoshi dropped by with Lego and some toy airplanes for Dani. Ruti opened the door. “Come in. Thanks so much.” Wow, Shoshi thought, this apartment is immaculate. The afternoon light streamed in through the spotless windows and accentuated the polished floor. The framed pictures on the wall were without a particle of dust. Ruti noticed Shoshi’s gaze wandering around. “I take pride in a clean apartment,” she said simply, “and it also makes it a lot easier to clean for Pesach.” Dani ran in from the kitchen to see who arrived. He had Ruti’s golden brown skin and dark eyes, and was full of energy. He was thrilled to have something new to play with, and asked, “Ima, where can I play with these?”
“In your room, sweetie. I’ll unlock it,” Ruti said. “Once I finish a room for Pesach,” she explained to Shoshi, “I lock it so it stays chometz-free without me constantly screaming at the children to stay out. It’s important to me to have a calm house. Before bedtime, I make sure the children have cleaned themselves off, and then I unlock the room.”
Shoshi was awed. When she went home, she tackled her closet. When was the last time that I wore these sheva brochos outfits? They’re no longer my size and they never will be, either. She transferred them into a “give away” bag, and surveyed the closet with satisfaction. Now I have room to see what I do have.
Two days later, Ruti was back at the park. She retuned the toys, again expressing her thanks. Shoshi peeked into the bag. The toys looked in better condition than before and had a smell of disinfectant. Ruti probably enjoyed cleaning the toys even more than Dani liked playing with them, Shoshi thought wryly.
“Peach cleaning is a matter of scheduling,” Ruti announced. “I clean in the mornings when most of the children aren’t around, and today I started the girls’ room. When they’ll be older, I’ll expect them to pitch in, but for now, it’s up to me.”
That afternoon, Shoshi made time to start her girls’ room. When her daughter brought home a ‘This Room is Clean for Pesach’ sign from pre-school, Shoshi proudly hung it up. It’s almost clean for Pesach, she told herself. At least I started.
The next day, Michal looked at Ruti suspiciously. “Boy, you look tired, Ruti. You’re overdoing it with the cleaning.”
Ruti straightened. “I know how to pace myself. It’s ladies who leave everything for the last minute who end up exhausted. What kind of impression does it makes on their children? Seeing their mother slaving away, drained of energy, and short tempered – this is simcha shel mitzvah?”
The following week while Dovid was sleeping, Shoshi tiptoed into his room, and quietly went through his shelves. Some ‘artwork’ she put into a pile for grandparents; the rest she stuffed into the garbage. The fewer things there are, the easier it is to clean. The women spent less time on the park benches, as Pesach cleaning began in earnest for those who hadn’t started early. Shoshi was passing by Ruti’s apartment one day, and decided to drop in. She knocked, then noticed that the door was ajar. “Come in!” she heard, and pushed the door open.
Shoshi stopped in her tracks and her jaw dropped. Was this Ruti’s apartment? The living room was dark, even gloomy, and the windows were obscured with fingerprints and magic marker. The pictures hung crookedly, and the table was buried under papers, shoes, plastic bags, and pizza crusts. Shoshi looked for Ruti, and saw her huddled on the sofa, piles of laundry nearby.
“Ruti, are you OK?” Shoshi asked worriedly.
“I’m so embarrassed,” Ruti whimpered, tears trickling. “I know the place is such a wreck.”
“Forget how it looks, what’s with you?“
“Hepatitis,” she mumbled. “I’m so sick and have no energy.”
Shoshi remembered Dani throwing up. “You got it from Dani, right?”
“Yeah, and he must’ve gotten it from the playgroup.”
“But when I came by with the toys, he was running around and looked fine.”
“Children get over it fast, Boruch Hashem. I kept him home so he wouldn’t infect the other kids, not because he needed it.” Ruti sighed. “I’m so behind in my cleaning I don’t know what to do. Serves me right for monopolizing the conversation about Pesach cleaning. No one ever listens to me anyway.”
Shoshi stroked Ruti’s arm. “Don’t cry. Actually, I’ve been using your ideas and it’s been my most relaxed, easiest Pesach cleaning ever. I enjoyed sorting through things and was calm, too.”
Ruti brightened up. “Really? You know, when I started to feel sick, I pushed myself to keep going out. I felt sicker inside, the baby still wanted his daily outing, and I wanted to inspire you ladies to clean. Why didn’t anyone tell me that I was making an impression on them?”
Shoshi tried to be tactful. “Maybe next time you could be a little more, uh, gentle about urging us to start cleaning early.”
Ruti nodded thoughtfully. “But what am I going to do about Pesach cleaning? I only have the living room and kitchen left. My husband suggested a cleaning lady, but I’m too mortified to have anyone see what a disaster the place is.”
“I know!” Shoshi beamed. “Hire Bochurim to help. They won’t even notice how it looks!” And they both laughed.