Now that Purim is behind us, Jewish women all over the world start what for some is a very stressful month – the time before Pesach (Passover). Some have known for a while where they will be for seder and some are just deciding now. Some have started to clean already and others are refusing to even think about it.
What we all have in common though, is the almost Pavlovian reaction to seeing another Jewish woman during this month – the inevitable question “what have you done so far for Pesach?”.
I’ve thought a lot about this situation, and I have come to the conclusion that what we are looking for when asking this question is not information (who really cares how your neighbor or friend does the cleaning?) but emotional support. What we really want to hear is that someone else is farther behind than where we think we ought to be at the given moment – so that we can feel less guilty about procrastinating, and less stressed out about the whole thing. After all, if Mrs. X has so much more to do than I do then surely I will be able to manage in the end. In addition, we also want to show off a bit, giving ourselves a pat on the back for whatever work we have done so far, and giving us further incentive to do more so we can brag again.
The main problem with the above scenario is that we don’t always hear what we want to hear. If your neighbor has done way more than you have then instead of the emotional support you are looking for you get a tremendous source of stress.
In addition, the conversation can take an insidious turn if we start to talk about what the other members of our family are doing to help. We all know women who are married to angels from heaven who not only know how to clean like professionals, but are willing to do this cleaning after long days of work, and do the cleaning EXACTLY as we would. Others have daughters – and sometimes sons, who are tremendously helpful and just live to ask “what more can I do to help, mom?” Most of us, of course, are married to wonderful but regular men who don’t exactly fit into this category, and have children who don’t think cleaning for Pesach is a top priority. Comparing our families is not only deadly for shalom bayit (peace in the home) but it almost always just adds to our anxiety and stress and feelings of jealousy.
What we should really be doing during this month is giving each other support. Asking “how are you doing” and responding that “yeah, this time of year is tough” and reminding each other that we somehow all get through it is what we really should be doing. I for one am going to give it a try this year. Who is with me?