Mishenichnas Adar marbim…b’Pesach cleaning.
Purim undoubtedly presents one of the great dichotomies of the Jewish year. On the one hand, it is itself a time of tremendous joy, and we brim over with excitement for Geulah with Pesach imminently approaching. On the other hand, it creates major stress in the home. We are already nervous about all that Pesach cleaning just around the corner. And, to top it all off, over Purim our homes are freshly stocked with thoughtfully packaged and lovingly delivered chametz bombs, also known as mishloach manos.
Overwhelmed by all this good food so close to Pesach, many homes resort to an age-old method of destroying chametz: one mouthful at a time. Yes, there are many wonderful organizations that will happily redistribute your extras to needy families. But…so many of these morsels are homemade. Yes, the garbage can is certainly no less needy of another bag of cookies than your overly full stomach. But…how can one heartlessly chuck away people’s hard work and thoughtfulness like a box of processed junk?
How can one begin cleaning for Pesach while honoring the several dozen mishloach manos now taking up precious space in your kitchen and living room? This is indeed a dilemma.
This dilemma also has a way of showing up in other places in our lives. Every sheva brachos we attend or gift basket we receive brings up the same challenge of honoring and appreciating what others have done for us, whether or not we really want to eat a lava cake with a scoop of ice cream when our stomachs are already gurgling with uncomfortable fullness.
Without minimizing this dilemma in any way, we do have to take a moment to ask ourselves a very honest question: Is this dilemma coming from an earnest place of v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha, or are we looking for ways to justify impulsive eating?
Let’s be real…just thinking about all that Pesach cleaning ahead of us is enough to send most of us reaching for cookies. Sometimes, we’re already deep into Pesach cleaning and turn to some remnant hamantaschen as a little “energy boost” to keep us going, or maybe to distract us. You’ve probably figured it out already, but if you haven’t, stress and nosh are a bad combination.
So if you think I’m about to tell you that to solve your problems you need to hide all of your Purim leftovers or give them away, then you haven’t been really reading my articles. If stress has you turning to those treats, then what you need to work on isn’t hiding the food; you need to deal with your stress.
Pesach is coming in a month—no matter what. Your house needs to be chametz-free by then—no matter what. You have an obligation to come to the Seder table feeling like a bas melech and excited for geulah—not a like a used shmatteh. And that, you should know, is the key to all the discussion we’ve been having about menuchas hanefesh. Because menuchas hanefesh isn’t about changing your circumstances. It’s about embracing them.
Here are three great ways to find menuchas hanefesh when stress is overtaking you:
One of the most important ideas to know about geulah (and challenges in general) is that our reality is only as freeing or enslaving as the way we think about it. You have the ability to change your thoughts about the world around you. One way of doing that is called reframing, which is finding a new way to look at something you are experiencing.
Here are a few examples of reframing:
Instead of: Rachamnus! I have an entire house to scour!
Reframe: HaRachaman! I have the opportunity to show Hashem how important it is to me to rid my life of the yetzer hara.
Instead of: I am trapped in my home for the next three hours scrubbing away until the troops come home and tie me up for the rest of the night.
Reframe: What a rare opportunity! I have three perfect hours of silence to introspect as I clean before the troops get home.
Instead of: I am working so hard I could plotz!
Reframe: I am getting such a good workout, and a mitzvah to boot!
Asking yourself what you really need right now
People often turn to food when they are stressed because it is an easy distraction and a fast reward. Often, however, it doesn’t actually do anything to relieve stress.
Instead, here are a list of suggestions that may actually improve your situation:
Do I just need a little catnap?
Do I need to take some time to read a book and relax?
Would I benefit from taking a refreshing shower right now?
Maybe I need a short walk around the block to get some fresh air and a change of scenery.
Am I actually hungry? Instead of grabbing cookies I might want to sit down to a proper meal. I can always grab a cookie while also satisfying my real needs.
Is this too much for me? Maybe I need to ask my husband and kids to chip in a bit more so that I don’t burn out.
Would calling up my favorite phone friend make this more fun?
Grounding and centering techniques
Sometimes none of the above tips help because you’re too tzufloigento even consider them. That means it is time to center and ground yourself. Follow the process below to give yourself the space and awareness to take the best next step that’s helpful to you:
Sit down in a comfortable chair (yes, even in the middle of Pesach cleaning).
Cup your hands with the back of one in the palm of the other and let them fall in your lap.
Push your feet firmly into the floor.
Take a few deep breaths.
Take a look around the room and notice five things that you see.
Now notice three or four things that you hear. Maybe one of them is silence.
This takes seconds to do and is so easy; practice it until it becomes second nature.
Now there is one other reason why you may be reaching for those mishloach manos with Pesach on the way, and that’s our “old friend”: restriction. If anything gets us obsessing over food and eating in a way that’s out of control, it’s feeling restricted. In every area of our lives, restriction leads us to want to push back.
Pesach is coming, and for some people that means a tangible fear of not having chametz and kitniyos. The result: Get it all in while there is still time. The anxiety of life without chametz leads people to overdo it as an attempt to assuage the pain before it comes.
Whenever you feel restricted, the best thing to do is to remove the restriction. Don’t make it last longer than it has to. Remind yourself, “I can eat chametz any time I want to before Pesach.” If you need to, go to a local bagel shop and get yourself a good bagel or a fluffy croissant. But, in order for this step to work best, make sure it’s a really good croissant. Something you enjoy. And then, eat it. Slowly. Deliberately. Savor every bite. That way you’ll feel like you really satisfied that craving and don’t feel restricted.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with expunging your mishloach manos by imbibing them. Just make sure that it’s coming from a place of genuine enjoyment and/or hunger and not as a result of stress or restriction. This is the season of freedom, and freedom means making choices.
Stay tuned for my article in the Erev Pesach edition that will address eating intuitively on Pesach.
(This article originally appeared in The Voice of Lakewood.)