Pesach — I’m Not OCD! (Am I?)

Q: As we approach Pesach, I’m trying to enlist my children to help with cleaning, but I’m not getting much positive response or help from them. My older children ask why we can’t go to a hotel; cleaning help and food are so expensive anyway, they tell me. My 14-year-old daughter keeps quoting her halachah teacher — that Pesach cleaning is not spring cleaning — and insists I am going overboard. This sounds nice on paper, but it’s not realistic. I’m not talking about taking down and washing the living room curtains, but when you start checking the insides of game boxes for pretzel pieces and cookie chunks, you can’t just leave the contents disorganized. Who knows when I’ll ever get to fix the many toys and games we have in our house, or to sort and organize loose pieces? These things need time — and my children have little interest in helping.

And rendering things in the category of lo ra’uy l’achilas kelev (not suitable for even a dog to eat) by using cleaning fluids on them only helps a certain amount. When you’re already cleaning, you can’t turn away from areas that still feel sticky (even if there’s Ajax on them!).

My son said that I’m OCD, that I become a total nervous wreck at this time of year and should leave everyone alone. Is it OCD when chametz is connected to being chayav kareis?

A: Those who truly suffer with obsessive compulsive disorder will use religion (or any lifestyle direction) as a vehicle in which to invest their anxious thoughts. Living with uncertainty of the unknown (as we all do) only exacerbates this condition in those who are prone to it, and the need to control certain parts of their environment becomes their overriding concern. Obsessive thinking and behavior becomes an irrational way to take the edge off the anxiety of the unknown. These individuals are often overridden with feelings of guilt for never being “good enough.”

If this is not your general issue in life, OCD is not your problem; you need to redirect your vision of Pesach.

It is true that the Arizal said that one who does not see a “mashehu” of chametz in one’s home on Pesach is guaranteed not to do aveiros all year. However, the Arizal also stated that he only achieved the madreigos of ruchniyus that he did through his simchah shel mitzvah.

It is written in sefarim that a person can reach the lowest spiritual dimensions through depression — even worse than through aveiros. If your cleaning is causing you depression and anxiety, your approach needs a strong revamping.

On a practical level, it is true that once a person begins to clean for Pesach, it can be difficult to focus on just looking for chametz when you encounter all the other household tasks begging to be completed. One needs to use self-discipline to put a general time limit on each area being worked on. Beyond actual cleaning, a certain amount of time may be allotted for organization — but stay within your schedule! Then, in the weeks between school and camp, and then camp and school, these projects can be finished. During those unstructured days, maintenance-type projects can be assigned to children who remain home.

A similar thought process needs to occur in terms of your issue with things being “lo ra’uy l’achilas kelev.” You need the parameters of a time limit on each area, and that time limit needs to be adhered to. When tackling these difficult chores, working with a cleaning person can help expedite the process.

In terms of enlisting your children, if you have a family meeting and split up the workload, much can be accomplished. A schedule involving breaks and various distractions after completing tasks is most helpful. One parent would bring her children to a toy store on Chol Hamoed and give each child a certain amount of money to spend, as a thank-you for their Pesach cleaning.

Harav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, zt”l, composed a comprehensive guide to Pesach cleaning in 5765 to clarify the parameters to follow in order to avoid being over-zealous, and eventually exhausted and overworked. It is worthwhile reading.