Purim may be upon us, but most Jewish women’s minds are on something else, something that generally can’t begin until after the last crumbs of hamentaschen have been scattered from the front door to the kitchen and the last hidden maschaloch manos rooted out of the kids’ bedrooms where they absolutely should not have been.
I’m speaking of course of Passover prep, the unending and untiring pursuit of a chametz-free home.
Chametz is every leavened bit that isn’t allowed for a Jew to possess during Passover, in memory of the fact that our ancestors had to flee Egypt and didn’t have time to let their dough rise. For most Orthodox families, this means spring cleaning on steroids. Cupboards are emptied and scrubbed, pantries sorted, crumbs searched for. Different families clean to different levels, some approaching OCD perfection. I’d say we’re probably somewhere in the middle, even though we could be more lax due to our status. It kind of takes on a life of its own in some ways and I keep feeling that if I get enough practice doing it, it will become less painful of a process.
This year, there has been an escalation in the battle to clear the house of chametz.
I have been rather sick this winter, fighting recurrent sinus and upper respiratory infections. I’ve had brief periods where I haven’t been sick, but for the most part, I’ve been congested in one way or another all winter and even at times during the summer as well. I finally went to an allergist this week to get to the bottom of it all, worried he’d tell me that I’m allergic to my pets.
Well, the good news is that I’m not at all allergic to dogs or cats!
The bad news is that I am allergic to both types of dust mites and I live in a house that is mostly carpeted, so I’ll be attacking the chametz this year with particular vigor. In addition, I have something called “dysfunctional vocal chords” which means that when I breathe in, they often constrict my airway, not allowing me to get a full breath. It feels about exactly as it sounds, like someone is holding your throat, not allowing you to really breathe deeply. For that, I’ll have to start doing exercises to retrain my vocal chords.
As I left the appointment, I was looking at the bright side of this. Now, I know what I can do to help myself feel better. I also have more reason to keep things neat and tidy and my Passover cleaning this year should also help me feel better! I also have a very physical reminder to relax, that I don’t need to strain to be heard and that often a whisper is more powerful than a yell. I have a good reason to measure my words and choose the ones that will do the most good. (The more I speak, the worse it gets, as if my words begin to strangle me.)
This situation has also helped my husband and I look at our lives and see more possibilities. I’ve been working long hours and at a job with quite a bit of stress. Guess what makes my condition worse? Stress. Plus, if I’m working so much, when do I have time to vacuum every room more often, wash the bedding more often, do my breathing exercises, etc, etc, etc? When we looked at this on top of the amount of cooking I need to do each week to keep us all healthy and eating kosher, we realized that we need to reorder our lives so that we have time for me to do those things. We also realized that his career suffers, too, since I’m unavailable to run errands and really support him. It all adds up to me being run down and stressed and sick and him also getting run down, stressed, and his type 2 diabetes being worse. For our health and shalom bayis, we’re planning to slowly scale me back to working part time.
It’s amazing how even the challenges that come into our lives can be a gift that leads us to a greater good. I’ve needed to lose my voice to find my peace and G-d knew this and in His kindness found a way to slow me down.