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Spring Cleaning

by Tim O'Hearn

One of the prominent aspects of Passover (which starts the evening of April 23, 2005) is spring-cleaning. This practice is based on Exodus 12:19, which says, “seven days there shall be no leaven found in your houses.” In order to adhere to that command the entire house must be cleaned and all leaven removed. You can’t know that there is no leaven in the house if there is a part of the house that has not been thoroughly cleaned.

On the evening before Passover starts, observant Jewish families make one last sweep of the house to make sure all leaven is removed. Many leave a few crumbs in an obvious place so the blessing on removing leaven will not be a wasted blessing. Then the children “find” the leaven and sweep it into a wooden spoon using a feather. The following morning all the remaining leaven, including that last “found” portion is burned in fire, along with the spoon. Thus the house is purged of all leaven for the seven days of Passover.

This spring-cleaning is so much a part of the preparation for Passover that it has even become routine for many non-Jews. They are not doing it to look for leftover leaven, but as a convenient time to prepare for a new year. New beginning of life, some think, calls for a new beginning with a clean house.

There is a sense in which we need to do a complete house cleaning more often than once a spring. We are our own house, and sin is the leaven we need to clean out. That is not to say that leaven always represents sin, but there are times when we should search out sin in our lives just like cleaning the leaven at Passover.

Even from the first recorded sin, the picture of a house being attacked by it was presented. “And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.” (Gen 4:6-7)

Tzaraat, sometimes translated leprosy, was an infection that only affected people, clothing, and houses. It was not like the Hansen’s disease, which is known as leprosy today. If anything, it was more commonly a miraculous or God induced infection. The rabbis say that it was caused by a number of sins, most notably gossip or slander. In every case in the scriptures when someone was stricken with the disease it was directly or indirectly a result of their slanderous or belittling attitude. That such a disease could also strike the house of such a person shows that sin can permeate every part of a person’s life. The Law, in Leviticus 14:34-53, shows how to deal with tzaraat in a house. First you take out the stones that are affected and scrape all the plaster and mortar around them. If, after the stones are replaced and the wall is replastered, the house is still infected, all the beams and stones and mortar are to be removed. Yes, that means the house is essentially destroyed. If the plague does not return, however, the house was to be cleansed by a designated sacrifice.

Sin is like that in our houses. Sometimes it takes minor repairs to remove it. We may clean the house and it remain clean. At other times, sin is persistent. It requires a thorough and drastic spring-cleaning because a dusting just won’t do. Sometimes we have to take our lives apart to see what sin is doing to us–to see how deep it goes.

Leaven can hide in the most difficult places. Sin has a way of hiding where we don’t want to look. Have you ever had company coming on short notice, so you clean all but one bedroom, and just shut the door to that room? (I know I am not the only person who does that.) Sometimes we like to do that with sin. We clean the whole house except for the one room we know houses our pet sin. Before we can confess our sins to God, we must clean the whole house. We must get all the sin out in the open. Only then can we be ready for God’s Passover. Only when we uncover our sins ourselves can God cover them, and pass over us, holding us guiltless.