Pesach and panic seem cosmically interwoven. I bet the yiddelach of the shtetl were a whole lot calmer about their Pesach prep than their post-modern grandchildren are today. Back then, they cleaned their two or three rooms, kashered their handful of utensils and got to work cleaning chickens, boiling schmaltz and baking Matzah. Today, we moan about the price of macaroons and the shortage of potato chips as we phone-order exaggerated meat and fish deliveries so we can lay out a spread that nobody will finish.
Shtetl dwellers would sometimes buy new shoes, a jacket or a skirt for Yom Tov. Your elter-bobba never dreamed of a new wardrobe for her wedding, let alone for Pesach. You can be sure they didn’t fuss over the Seder decor either (a bunch of spring flowers would have been a treat).
What they did have in their claustrophobic, fire-trap little homes was Yom Tov spirit. Our ancestors had little, yet they shared a lot. Somehow, they always managed to dish up an extra ladle of soup for an unexpected guest. Their guests didn’t sit at place-marked seats and often were neither family nor friends. In all likelihood, your great-zeida would bring home some vagabonds each Seder night.
Pesach is around the corner and our frenzied preparations are hitting fever-pitch. We want to impress our Seder guests, inspire ourselves and leave our children with warm Pesach memories. And there’s nothing wrong with that- Pesach should be uplifting, enjoyable and memorable. To play Pesach right is to feel empowered and liberated at the end of it.
But, if Pesach breeds stress, leaves you on edge or turns into an “outdo the Cohens” exercise, then you have become a slave to Pesach.
Rosh Chodesh was on this past Tuesday. Tuesday is the one time during Creation when G-d said “it is good” twice. The Talmud explains that it was “good for the heavens and good for the people”. Practically, this means that Tuesday represents the balance between personal spiritual bliss and helping others feel good. When Nissan- the month of Pesach- starts on a Tuesday, it reminds us that a real Pesach is as much about helping others feel good as it is about making ourselves feel good.
You may know someone who doesn’t feel good- perhaps they’re battling financially and can’t make a Seder like they used to; maybe they’re alienated from their family and will spend Pesach alone; possibly they’re disinterested in celebrating Pesach in the first place. If you know such a person, involve them. Helping someone else experience and enjoy Pesach- even if it’s challenging to do- makes your Pesach worthwhile.