I remember when a good friend of mine lost his mother. He was just 6 weeks into the first year of aveylus (mourning period for when a parent passes away) when he encountered a familiar problem; he was invited to the wedding of a co-worker’s daughter. Although the co-worker was not observant, the guy was going out of his way to make a nice, kosher wedding. He kept telling my friend about the upcoming wedding and how proud he will be to show his family, his “religious friend”. How could he not attend this wedding and dance with his co-worker? The fellow had made such an effort to hire an Orthodox Rabbi and make the entire event strictly kosher (and not just order for him an “airline” meal). Being a Torah dedicated Jew, my friend called a Rav and asked a shayla (question); could he attend the wedding – and dance with the father of the bride – even though he had just lost his mother 6 weeks before?
Before allowing the Rav to answer, my friend added a few words; “Rav, you should know that I am verymachmir (strict) in life and I want to be very machmir in my aveylus as well so please take that into consideration when answering my shayla.” The Rav smiled and said, “Baruch Hashem that you are machmirbecause so am I.” And then, my friend added a few words that I am certain the Rav never heard before; “Dear Rav, what I meant is that I am machmir in Simcha (joy). My service to Hashem is always b’simchaand I want my aveylus to be in that way as well. I strive to keep Halacha perfectly but I never avoid thechumra of Simcha… it is in everything I do!! So please, answer my shayla knowing that I want to keep the laws of aveylus but making sure it is done mehadrin minha’mehadrin (extra perfect) with all the chumraspossible of Simcha!!!” He later told me that the Rav had no idea what to say, and finally – after a few minutes of total silence – told him to call a Chassidic Rav with his question!! (Good idea, by the way…)
This story comes to mind as the holiday of chumras rolls around. The holiday that is so beautiful and so holy yet one that we have taken and almost totally destroyed. Instead of spending all that time cleaning ourneshamas (souls), we clean our sock drawer. Instead of wiping our computers clean of all the horriblechametz that is there, we vacuum our car for 2 hours when 20 minutes is Halachically adequate. And instead of cleaning our hearts from the hatred we have for fellow Jews who don’t exactly look or act the way we do, we wash all the windows in our house.
Yes, we should be machmir… machmir in the happiness of the holiday and in the freedom Hashem has given us! We need to be extra careful about understanding the deeper, inner meaning of these 7 days (whoops, I mean 8 days for most of the people reading this…) and we must take every precaution imaginable to make sure our youth love the entire month of Nissan and not just for the few minutes when they swipe theAfikoman.
So this Pesach, take it easy on making everyone crazy. Enjoy the cleaning… yes, we can!! (Thank you Obama for that line). Enjoy the shopping… and don’t kvetch about the prices. Enjoy the Erev Pesach preparations and thank Hashem for allowing you to spend Pesach at home and not in a hotel in Las Vegas. Enjoy some good old fashioned matzo-ball soup and matza-brei like you used to eat (for 50 years) before “gebrokts” became mandatory.
Enjoy, laugh and cherish the moment of this amazing holiday. Use all of your chumras, stringencies and extra precautions to guard against depression, anger and frustration. Get the kids involved… and not just the little ones by buying jumping frogs for the seder. Involve your teenage sons and daughters in the entire holiday and spend time with them. This year is a long Chol Ha’Moed and don’t you dare go to work!! You can arrange your vacation – if you want to!! Spend the time away from work and invest that time in your children; young and old. Remember; this is the holiday of freedom… so be free! Don’t shackle yourself to a desk. Get up and get out with your family and do meaningful things both physically and spiritually. Then, when Pesach is over you will realize just what a blessing Hashem gave us with these amazing days. May you enjoy each and every one of them!