I call it the Pesach shame game.
As soon as we pass Purim on the calendar, I begin my slow descent into inconspicuousness. I don’t make eye contact with the women waiting on line at the supermarkets, I avoid phone calls, and text messages, and cancel all Shabbos guests.
Why the sudden reclusiveness? Because engaging with the general population at this time of year will not end well. Maybe someone will ask, “What are your Pesach plans?” and I may have to answer with the truth: “I am not making Pesach this year.”
Baruch Hashem, my parents and in-laws are still willing to have us. They are actually eager to have us. So, even though I have boxes of Pesach pots and dishes in my basement, I get to close my door on Erev Pesach and come home on Motzei Pesach without having to cover a single counter or kasher a single sink.
But instead of thanking Hakadosh Baruch Hu, I feel like I have to hang my head in shame for shirking my responsibilities.
Sadly, I know that I am not the only woman who feels this way.
The other day, I was waiting on line at the supermarket takeout counter. The woman in front of me was holding up the line, carefully going over a mile-long sheet of paper with the takeout coordinator, scratching her pen across the page with the seriousness of a sentencing judge. I was growing increasingly bored, so I might have eavesdropped a little bit. With the snippets I managed to make out, I realized that the woman was designing her entire Pesach menu, ordering food to cover every meal of Pesach, including Chol Hamoed.
You have my word that I did not think anything of it. I did not judge this woman for her choice not to cook. I did not think any less of her, considering of course that I did not even know her. But she was convinced that she could read my mind. She turned to me, her face flushed crimson, and said, “You must think that I am the least capable woman who has ever lived.”
I don’t even know her name!
She darted off before I could hug her and tell her to ease up; all I could do was sigh.
If it were only her, I would write it off as just one other woman who is as insecure as I am, but this happens everywhere I go, in varying versions.
Earlier today, I mentioned to a friend that she must really be looking forward to her annual getaway to a Florida Pesach program. She sighed like I had just condemned her to a week in a prison.
“Ugh,” she moaned. “Do you think I even want to go to a hotel? It is exhausting to be on display for eight days straight. All I want to do is enjoy my own Seder so my kids will have memories of me and not some waitress serving them food. But my husband works hard all year, and this is how he wants to spend Pesach.”
My first reaction was that she was just trying to be nice to me, her friend who couldn’t afford any Pesach program, let alone one of the most luxurious programs in the Sunshine State. But then I realized it was something deeper. Like me and the anonymous woman in the supermarket, she felt like she was ducking out on her obligation to make Pesach, taking the easy way out while the rest of our friends were scrubbing and scouring, and it was making her feel ashamed.
Oy. We need to put an end to this ridiculous Pesach shame game.
Chazal tell us that Bnei Yisrael were freed from Mitzrayim in the zechus of the righteous women, the women who sacrificed for their husbands and children, and thus ensured the continuation of Klal Yisrael. Chazal do not tell us that it was the zechus of the women who whipped up 12 cartons of egg whites or made their Pesach crepes from scratch. The righteous women were the ones who knew intuitively what their husbands needed and what their families needed.
And that’s the example we can follow today.
In my case, I am giving my parents and in-laws the nachas of having their children and grandchildren around their Pesach table. I am giving my children the opportunity to learn from their wonderful grandparents. Where is the shame in that?
The woman in the supermarket is ordering food because she wants to give her family a beautiful Yom Tov. Where is the shame in that?
My friend is going to a hotel because that is what works for her family. Where is the shame in that?
There is no one-size-fits-all approach. We women have complex lives. The choices we make each Pesach – no, throughout our lives – are nuanced, well thought out, and even selfless.
As long as we are making these choices for our families, we can be rest assured that we are doing the right thing, and hopefully, like our righteous matriarchs, it will be a merit for us to bring the ultimate redemption.
So I am coming out of hiding.
If you ask me about my Pesach plans, I will answer you with my head held high. I hope, no matter your Pesach plans, you can do the same.