The Great Pesach Heist

March 18, 2013

I’ve been robbed.

Oh, it came as no surprise, though I did not exactly court the trouble myself. My son arrived in this world when he did, six weeks early of his own volition, right on the cusp of Pesach. I returned from the hospital following a C-section and immediately set to kashering my kitchen, a fact I look back upon still today with utter fascination. From whence came the strength, I do not know.

But a fleeting thought came to mind even then: his bar mitzvah would fall out on Shabbat Hagadol. For years, it was something to speculate about with a bit of a nervous chuckle. Eventually, however, the nervous chuckle transformed into full-blown panic when we realized that the first seder would begin that year on a Monday night.

Not exactly perfect timing if you aren’t the sort to spend the holiday in a resort hotel on the beach. And I am not.

Friends and family gently suggested that I consider moving the date, but that wouldn’t have been easy either given conflicts with other bar mitzvahs already on the calendar. Ultimately, G-d had the deciding vote. I’m simply not one to play games with His scheduling. If Shabbat Hagadol is when He wanted the bar mitzvah to take place, that’s when it would take place.

So we proceeded accordingly, and it all looked so doable from far from away. Distance has that remarkable ability to calm our nerves, to convince us that there’s plenty of time to get it all done, to reassure us in the way Israelis say, “yehiye tov.” It will be good.

And yet, the confluence of events suddenly struck me like a ton of bricks once the year of his bar mitzvah arrived. Then the countdown – months, weeks, now days — began, and I immediately found myself split in two. One half lurched towards Pesach, the other half towards the bar mitzvah. A sliver of me stayed in the center lane, trying to hold down the rest of the work-life-laundry fort. I soon took to using a large piece of paper to manage it all, folding my shopping and to-do lists into three columns.

Now, with less than a week to go until the bar mitzvah and one extra day left until Pesach, I feel much like my fifth grader, whose gym curriculum includes a circus unit. They juggle. They balance plates on sticks. But as my fifth grader — who has mastered keeping three balls aloft — will tell you, mismatched objects cannot travel easily in a continuous round. Likewise, a fragile stick cannot keep a heavy plate in the air.

With the pressure on to do too much at once, my frustration has made me into one of those snapping turtles in the aquarium. I need a coffee I.V. to function and I can hardly eke out a smile. I barely recognize myself and Lord knows I don’t admire myself in this state.

Generally, I love this time of year. I enter Pesach cleaning season like a kid in a candy shop. All of the organizing and cleaning and sorting and clearing out set my heart beating as if I’m falling in love with my husband all over again. Almost nothing makes me as happy as lining up bags to donate or pass along to friends. I don’t even mind the smell of Windex and Comet seeping into my skin because the end result – appliances that look brand-spanking new – is so worth it.

But on another level, nothing matches the conversations I have with G-d while I’m cleaning as I get ready for seder at a slow and steady pace. We talk about everything. While wiping down the cabinets, I am wiping my slate clean, too. I apologize for my impatience with my children and my slothfulness when I do not make it to shul, hoping my fastidiousness in preparations for the holiday will somehow make amends.

This year, however, I’ve been denied that lengthy preparation time, rushed as I am with all sorts of distractions. Instead of self-reflection, I’m simply ticking things off lists. Forget about prayer. I’m lucky I’m awake! And so, what has long been a meaningful period of spiritual focus has been stolen right out from under me by thieves who snuck in under the cover of chaos.

This morning, however, I awoke annoyed with myself. Shame on me, I said, for failing to see the wonder of all that is happening around me. I decided to slam on the brakes and take a detour away from the traffic in order to find a way to be genuinely happy – right now. It is unfair, I realized, to allow all of this stress to mute my son’s simcha. Likewise, poor Pesach is awash in the tumult, too. At this rate, nothing is getting the attention it deserves.

And you know what else I realized? I’m entitled to my time with G-d as well. I have scheduled a shorter conversation with Him for later this evening when I’m cleaning the freezer.

So friends, there’s the rub! The burglars may have pocketed a few things, but they left behind the gift of focus.

Gone, for this year at least, are my Pesach-induced neuroses. There’s simply no time for spring cleaning. I will pay close attention to the blessings that nullify whatever chametz I missed in my swoop through the house. As it always is, the kitchen will be kashered and thank G-d, no one will go hungry. The important thing is that we will be together for the holiday.

As for the bar mitzvah, my sons are my greatest blessings, and I’m glad to have had the reminder this year. I promise myself to be present in the moment when my middle man stands to read from the torah. As Grandma Sadye liked to say, I will stick out my chest in pride and be grateful with a full heart.

And once the bar mitzvah is over and Pesach has begun, I will remember to send the burglars a thank you note.