Each year, Pesach time, there’s this competition we have with ourselves; a competition of seeing how quickly we can get ready for Pesach. How early on we can be finished, how much we can get done. It comes with a sort of feeling of one-upsmanship, a lot of feelings of pressure of what others are up to, or of your own expectations of yourself, or of your family’s expectations of you. I am one of those people who feel a lot of pressure Pesach time, to be ready by a certain time, as though there was a right way to prepare for Pesach.
Being a last minute person, whether by habit or by nature, doesn’t really lend itself to embracing that sort of organized lifestyle. Inevitably what would happen was that I would have my lists and try to have them all marked off by a certain time, only to get distracted and not really follow through. If I did manage to follow through, it came at the expense of tremendous feelings of pressure and stress. Whatever way it came out, whether I managed to be ready early, or whether I was barely ready right before Pesach, either way it never felt good. Because invariably the ingredient I always included in my preparations for Pesach — was stress.
Over the last few years of my life, the one thing I’ve been working on reducing in my life is stress. Trying to mainstream things, simplify things, go easier on myself. What I realized was — and it took me a long time to realize this — I only realized it recently — is that this is who I am. Whether it’s by nature, nurture, habit…this is who I am. I tend to do things at the last minute. Without much advanced planning. All these years I was trying to change that habit. And it hit me this year, that it’s so hard to change this habit for me. I’ve been working on it for so many years. I’ve invested so much time, money, energy, into trying to change this habit of doing things in a more timely fashion.
Here are 2 major insights I had:
1) It’s not wrong to have this sort of habit. Doing things the last minute is not a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong with it. If it works, then it works. There’s no right or wrong way to make Pesach, other than, obviously by having or NOT having chametz in your house. But if I get rid of the chametz in time for the real deadline, than what difference does it make WHEN I get there? There’s no right or wrong way to do it.
2) The only thing that is detrimental is if it has the ingredient of stress added to it. As soon as there’s that element of stress, then the whole thing just falls apart. We can be super stressed and try to get ready early, or we can be super stressed and do things up to the last moment. Either way it can be just as stressful.
So is there really something wrong with the stress? Let’s take a moment to talk about that.
When we experience stress when we’re cleaning for Pesach, this is what it does to us — it increases our cortisol (that’s the stress hormone), we don’t sleep as well, we get sick, our bodies ache, our middos go down the drain, we tend to snap at those around us, we’re rude, get angry easily, it affects our marriages, our chinuch, the way we interact with our kids, it affects our self-image, the way we eat. All these things make the element of stress so detrimental.
All this brought me to the understanding, for the first time, that I don’t have to do things early. I don’t have to try to break this habit of not having things done by rosh chodesh, not having things done by shabbos hagadol, not having things done by date x. All those dates are arbitrary. The only time I NEED to be finished doing these things is the time of biyur chametz on erev pesach. And the only thing that is actually in my hands to do, the one thing I have complete control over, is each moment as I face it, accomplishing small tasks as they come up, and to let go of that crushing feeling of stress.
Ultimately, it’s so much easier to live moment to moment, calmly, without the unnecessary stress, than it is to really break a life long habit of how I plan things. The bigger picture, however, is to realize that breaking that habit is a choice. Once I realize that “advanced planning” is a neutral middah, then I have the freedom to work in a way that works for me and the only goal that really matters is sublimating the stress, and how I feel going into it. As long as I can keep a smile on my face, and I can sing my way through all the pesach cleaning, and my family is happy, and I’m happy, and my middos are intact, and I’m treating my husband in a way I feel good about, and mothering in the way that I want to be a mother, then that’s all that matters. I’m doing my job, I’m doing my avodah of preparing my home for Pesach, preparing myself for Pesach, and through preparing myself for Pesach, through really reducing the stress, through really recognizing that this is the one thing I am in control of — I can control the amount of stress that I feel — it’s the most freeing feeling in the world. Wow. That’s freedom. That’s a yetzias mitzrayim. That’s the removing of chametz from our neshama. And so I’m no longer preparing for Pesach with the feelings of anxiety, stress, and tension. I’m walking into pesach with lists of things that need to get done, and plan of what needs to happen. But no competition of how early or late I finish. I’ll finish, in time, beH, and this year, I’m going to do it without stress, with a smile on my face, because that I think is the most important part of it.