Tuesday, November 17, 2009

kashering the insides

I sit back on my heels and feel the fridge behind me. Gratefully, I slump against it and let the muscles in my arms and back relax.

I’m exhausted.

And my oven is still disgustingly filthy.

Some halachos are relatively easy to keep. If you were lucky enough to have learned to say brachos as soon as you started to talk, remembering to make them on food can be something you do without any effort. Or something like helping the elderly shopper next to you read the price it says on the label of the can of corn she’s holding. Or being kind and friendly to the woman who runs the cash register at the dry cleaners. Sometimes keeping mitzvos is easy; they're the kind of things that don't take up much energy and you know they're the right thing to do. Then there are those mitzvos that are not just easy, but doing them makes you feel good, too.

And then there are the mitzvos that are tedious and hard. That sap you of physical energy and wear you down. That sometimes you secretly wish you didn’t have to keep.

So I sit here on the floor leaning against the fridge, my arms heavy and aching, my nose burning from inhaling the cleaner I’m using, my knees raw from kneeling on the hard floor for hours, my arms scratched from reaching into too many sharp corners, feeling like there is no end in sight. My oven is hopeless. I’m feeling kind of hopeless, too. (Do I get a new oven? New grates? Do I just keep cleaning? Is there a halacha that permits one to stop cleaning after having cleaned a certain amount of hours? And what in the world is wrong with the couple who lived in this apartment before us?!? How in heaven's name can you live in such a disgusting kitchen???)

And then suddenly I think of my grandmother.

Cleaning the floors of a Polish police station on all fours. Without rubber gloves to protect her hands. Probably with poor cleaning utensils to help her with the job. Scrubbing hard, because her life depended on it.

And I think about my great grandmother, and her mother, and hers. They cleaned, too. They kashered their homes with just rags and cold water and perhaps some soap if they could find it. They toiled for hours over their kitchens.


Because Hashem said so. So they did.

And I sit here with steel wool and cold grease cleanser and paper towels and Windex and rubber gloves and hot running water. And I complain that it’s too hard to keep a kosher kitchen?

I take a deep breath. I go back to the oven grates that are sitting in the bathtub and scrub as if my life depended on it.

Because does it not?

What does my life depend on if not keeping His Will to the best of my ability?

And I sort of feel proud to have such hardworking women standing behind me. I can almost hear them whispering small words of encouragement. They would be proud of my work, I think. This is hard for me, and I am tackling it with all I have, despite my exhaustion and the niggling thoughts of giving up. As I scrub, I take my mind off the aches and instead feel grateful for the tools He’s given me to help me keep His mitzvos. I whisper my thoughts upward as I work.

Soon…perhaps in one hour, perhaps in many…my oven will be clean.

And I'm beginning to feel a little cleaner, too...