By the time you read this, the Jewish holiday season will be underway. From the judgment of Rosh Hashanah to the Ten Days of Repentance, culminating in the forgiveness of Yom Kippur, it is followed by the celebration of Sukkos, Shemini Atzeres, and Simchas Torah. It can feel overwhelming to think about the logistics – from meal planning to guest lists, from building a sukkah to shopping for clothing, Esrog sets, and all of the other things needed. In most cases the houses and sukkos are filled with family, friends, children running around, and the cacophony of loved ones enjoying their time together.
Regardless of how much people relish the holidays, they can also feel stressed. This can lead to short tempers, hurtful words, and feeling less joy. By thinking about this in advance and creating strategies to help avoid undesirable situations, we can put ourselves on track to truly enjoy this time of year with the people we love.
I think of this now because I have just completed shloshim for my father. His greatest pleasure was to be with our family and for everyone to get along. Keeping the peace and engendering good feelings was always so important to him. I believe that he was able to do this in nearly any circumstance because he framed his own perspective based on gratitude. He felt so thankful for every blessing in his life. Nothing was coming to him, so anything he did receive was a special gift. This way of thinking reduces one’s ego, and it becomes much harder to feel outraged, annoyed, or slighted. I believe this outlook can reduce potential drama.
Imagine that the kids are running around, the place is a mess, and the guests will be here any minute. That sounds pretty stressful. Instead of blowing up, what if I choose to accept that I can only do what I can do? I can encourage those around me to help. But I should also be prepared in advance for the situation and choose not to feel anxious. Having everything be “perfect” is not worth creating unneeded pressure on me or on the people who have come to join in the festive spirit.
Furthermore, when we are sitting around the table, we should remember that these are the good times to which we look forward all year. If there are petty squabbles or tension, that can kill the mood. Although we are right to teach our children how to act at a dinner table, we must be cognizant that they pick up on everything we say and do. It is questionable if it is even effective to make them feel sad or even unsafe in the name of decorum. There are ways to gently encourage little ones, especially by example. If they see us get upset or argue, then these memories can last long after the meal is over. It is our duty and our privilege to create a setting of peace, love, and joy so our kids will look forward to celebrating the Jewish holidays long after they have children of their own.
It is especially important when everyone is gathered together that we do not single anyone out to be the butt of a joke or put down. Think of how your comment will make someone else feel before you allow it to leave your mouth. Everyone has challenges, and you may not know everything they are dealing with in their own lives. A careless remark can be so painful to someone who is already struggling, especially when uttered in front of their family and friends. I cannot begin to describe the gravity and effect of an ill-considered criticism, even when it is meant to be harmless or “constructive.” Keep it to yourself, and spare others the embarrassment, anger, or pain.
This is a very special period where we are fortunate to gather in the presence of Hashem. He takes tremendous pleasure in the things that we do for others. If being kind to a stranger is such a noble act, shouldn’t that same consideration and love be shown to the members of our own families? In this way it will truly be a zman simchaseinu, a time of rejoicing.