Dear Rebbetzin Chaya-
Tishrei is so overwhelming to me. How am I supposed to shop, plan, cook, host, entertain guests for 14 Yom Tov meals plus 12 Shabbos meals, keep my kids entertained…AND somehow get closer to Hashem at the same time?
Thanks so much,
So many of us feel this way over the Yom Tov season. This time of year absolutely tests our endurance, and all of the advice and pep talks in the world still can’t make it easy! It is almost inevitable that there will be moments of panic and stress, no matter how organized we try to be or how much great advice we receive. Be kind to yourself and celebrate your support, don’t beat yourself up over your challenges!
That being said, my earliest lesson in this regard came when I had been married for a little less than a year. We decided that since my father-in-law wasn’t well at the time, we would make Pesach for the family (my first time ever), and bring it to my in-laws’ home, so that we could all be together for Pesach. I had a newborn and had gone back to work four weeks before Pesach. And my newborn DID NOT LET ME PUT HER DOWN FOR ONE SECOND EVER. I called my mother in a panic a few days before Pesach to say that I just couldn’t do it. My mother, ever the pragmatist, said “So, don’t!” Of course, she didn’t mean “don’t do anything.” She meant that I should simplify. If I had listened to her, I wouldn’t have worn my sanity out that year by making individual meat-stuffed onions as a side dish. (Totally not worth the effort, by the way.)
Thus began my 15-year quest to simplify my to-do list. Practically speaking, there are a million tips and tricks out there to help simplify things, and they all work for different people and different circumstances. This Rosh Hashanah, I actually tricked myself by only planning and cooking for two meals, knowing that I would probably really have enough for all four. I told myself that even though I don’t like cooking on Yom Tov, I could if I needed to. For the first time in recent memory, I was finished cooking with a few hours to spare.
I try to remind myself, though, that it isn’t really simplifying the list but shifting the list. There are only 24 hours in a day, and each of us only has so much energy within those 24 hours. So anything we take off the to-do list makes room for something else important. Sleep. Time with kids or spouse. Tranquility. Introspection. Torah learning. Davening. If at all possible, the trade-off of finding even small ways to simplify the to-do lists, when it comes to the hostingcookingentertaining, is that perhaps you can create some small pockets of time to connect to Hashem.
I hope it goes without saying that this season should be a team relay not a solo sprint. To whatever extent possible, your spouse and children should be partners in this entire process, from planning to execution.
You can use those pockets of time to work on connecting to Hashem what I call the “old” way. If you are asking this question, you probably have some vivid memories of spiritual “moments.” For example, I was a Kotel junkie during the year I spent studying in Israel. I could often be found at the Kotel, writing in my journal, and taking the last bus of the night back to the dorm, listening to music on my walkman (I am absolutely dating myself). I can’t recreate that experience these days, but I try to find my moments to reconnect with it, like going to shul for Neila when I can. Writing this advice to you, deep in the night, is also an outlet for me. For you– it may be a certain Tefillah, writing in a journal, learning some Torah, or listening to certain music. Choose strategically, and even creatively, within the pockets of time and energy that you can find, those moments that will be most meaningful for you. Finding time to get closer to Hashem the “old way,” even if it’s not enough, will help you reconnect with that spiritual side of yourself that you may remember wistfully.
I have some friends who are excellent at really finding and making the most of those moments. To be brutally honest, though, I personally struggle with being able to really focus during the “pockets” that I find. I am worried about where the kids are, if the food is ready, what time the guests are coming… All those details don’t just go away. So while I keep working on connecting in the “old” way, in the little pockets I can create, the other avenue I find helpful is connecting to Hashem in a “new” way.
All of these practical tasks are in and of themselves ways of connecting to Hashem, not distractions from connecting to Hashem. This is especially true of the relationships that lie behind the “menial” tasks. Creating joyful holidays for ourselves and our families, modeling hard work and dealing with frustration, making mistakes and continuing to try to do better, taking care of the (sometimes noisy, rambunctious, exhausting, and OK, precious) children entrusted to us — these are all holy tasks. Our goal is to be mindful of WHY we are doing what we are doing, and recognize that we are choosing to do these tasks as part of our service of Hashem. If we can connect to Hashem, not DESPITE all of the hustle and bustle of Tishrei, but THROUGH the hustle and bustle of Tishrei, we may just find we have LOTS of opportunities to work on that relationship.
And a reminder for all of us: life is all about different seasons. Whether we want it to or not, life will continue to evolve. If the stage that you are in now is frustrating, trust that another one is around the corner. It will hold new challenges, of course, but also new opportunities to connect to Hashem in new and unexpected ways. And maybe some old ways as well.
I wish you a g’mar chatima tova and lots of luck staying connected through this busy season of life!