Every year in late summer — specifically, the last days of August and the first days of September — thousands upon thousands of women feel the first symptoms of stress. This is due to the chagim being upon us. The very thought of the yomim tovim cause some of us to perspire and others to have sleepless nights. Some women overeat while others lose their appetites entirely. Every female responds in her own way when she is anxious. But why are we anxious? One would think that, given the fact that these holidays come around every year, we would be used to it and that we would know that we will get through it just fine and that it will be lovely.
But we are not used to it. And despite that fact the holidays are lovely, we are never sure that they will be. Because of the many meals we are responsible for, our focus is on menu-planning and food shopping. Cooking the food is the least of our worries! Adding to that, we start to think about the clothing we will wear to shul. We want to know if the days will be warm or cool. We ask about it and we wonder about it despite the fact that it is far too early for even the most experienced meteorologist to make any predictions.
The clothing we will put on our bodies is easier to deal with than the hats that we will perch on our heads. Year in and year out we have to decide if we want to take the chance of wearing a felt hat and deal with some serious shvitzing or if will we go with straw despite the fact that summer is over and everyone knows that straw is a no-no. Years ago, this was a tough decision, but no longer. Hat-makers got wise and several years ago presented us with an acceptable solution to the hat conundrum. Now available to us is what we refer to as the “transitional” hat. The hat is not felt nor straw but a lightweight fabric. It couldn’t be easier!
This is a time of reflection as well as repentance. It is the season of awe and wonder. One of the things I wonder about is what Hashem thinks. He sees all and He knows how we are behaving, which has to mean that He is aware of women scurrying around and paying attention to matters that are of little consequence. It is a reasonable certainty that Hashem doesn’t care about the food we serve, doesn’t care about the clothing we will wear, and surely has no interest in what hat we choose. It occurs to me each year at this time that Hashem might actually be chuckling at the fact that we place so much emphasis on these issues. Of course, I don’t know for sure that Hashem chuckles about this. He might not find our focus on those unimportant issues funny. We can only hope that He doesn’t judge us on our nonsense.
In the weeks before Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot, as well as erev Pesach and some of the other chagim, when I’m in the supermarket and see females pushing wagons that are piled high with food, I wonder, “What are we thinking?” Sometimes I even surreptitiously raise my eyes and silently ask Hashem what He thinks about the level and focus of our preparations. Hopefully, He is thinking that so long as we are sincere and we will behave and act accordingly and daven with kavanah, He can ignore our emphasis on the least-important parts of yom tov preparation.
Having said all that, I believe Iam no different than other females. Regardless of how little I am expected to do at this age in the way of food preparation and menu-planning, I still feel a sense of anxiety. I just don’t know why! My daughters do all the shopping and the cooking, and I rarely contribute more than one or two dishes. Yet the anxiety persists.
Will it rain? Will it be hot when I walk to shul and then uncomfortably cold inside thanks to the air-conditioning? Should I go shopping in my closet or get new duds? It isn’t as if anyone will be looking at me. Truth be told, the only one who cares how I look is me! And I am no different than every other female. We tend to focus on ourselves. With every passing year, what we wear should become less and less important.
I won’t go into the area of shoes because shoes at my age are my biggest problem. What’s ridiculous about my concern with what shoes I wear is that nobody sees my shoes anyway. When I’m sitting in shul nobody sees them, and when I’m walking to shul, which is when people might see them, I carry my high-heeled shoes in a bag and walk in comfortable flats.
In the food department, in addition to all the new foods that appear on menus each year, we serve many traditional holiday foods. And since tradition doesn’t change, why should we worry about our menus? There is no intelligent or satisfactory answer to this question. Quite simply, we are conditioned to be anxious and to worry. We belabor our thoughts about food preparations.
But there is more good news with regard to our tradition. This is the part of tradition that guarantees that, with any luck and barring any serious problems, we will have what we always have: lovely chagim, meaningful davening, and a truly wonderful time together with our families. That’s the way it is and that’s the way we hope it will be.
Wishing you all a very healthy and happy New Year. Ketivah v’chatimah tovah!
Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and gives private small-group lessons in mah-jongg and canasta. She can be reached at Savtahannah@aol.com or 516-295-4435.