Finding inspiration for the holidays

>>i know it is a crazy busy time, but i was wondering if you could address how to make the holidays more inspiring. i used to listen to Torah lectures on tape while i was cooking/baking/cleaning, but the kids found them really boring. My husband has tried giving the girls assignments and they have come up with some really powerful Torah insights, but i could tell they were feeling like it was drudgery rather than inspiration. i am so busy with the physical needs of every holiday (shopping, cleaning, cooking, laundry, menus, etc etc) that i feel like the holidays have become about the trappings rather than the meanings. so, knowing your family, and knowing that your kids are genuinely inspired by what they do (at least the ones we know)- how do you set the stage for that??? any insights would be hugely appreciated! thanks so much!!!<<

Tonight, two different people asked me about how my Rosh Hashana was. The first asked if I had any special moments of inspiration, and the second asked how my davening (praying) was.  My answers were: a) I didn’t have any special moments of inspiration, and b) I didn’t do much praying.

On this Rosh Hashana, I can’t say I was reaching great spiritual heights in the way that it’s generally defined.  I was doing what I feel is what I’m meant to do at this stage in my life: to be there for my children, to keep my home running, and to keep the purpose of the day in mind as much as possible.  Although I do have a teenage daughter still at home, I feel this is her time in life to be in synagogue, so I don’t ask her to babysit so I can go to services.  I took the littles for the shofar blowing on both days and was happy to have been able to have done that.

For years I’ve tried to get inspired about this time of year and then felt guilty that I wasn’t on a spiritual high, that my faults were so huge and my desire to improve couldn’t possibly overcome that.  Accepting that I was doing the best that I could seemed like a cop-out.  But now I look at inner growth differently.  Guilt over my inadequacies doesn’t work to inspire me – it just leaves me feeling like there’s no point in trying to be better because I’ll never be good enough.

Growth for me is learning to let go of those well-intended expectations, and accept and love who I am, as I am right now.  I personally find it helpful to think about G-d as a parent who loves and cares about me, who wants to give me good things and knows I’m doing the best I can do – not to intimidate myself with thoughts of all the bad that might happen if I don’t get myself inspired.

I’ve had a challenging few weeks leading up to Rosh Hashana, time that was physically and emotionally taxing.  It was a time that I felt consciously aware that I was being stretched to be more, while making a conscious effort to stay cheerful in the face of pressures that in the past I would have been emotionally reactive to.  I felt it was a gift from G-d – both the challenge of this time as well as the help in growing from the challenges.  This stage has been personally inspiring for me, and whether it happened in synagogue on Rosh Hashana itself or not, or tidily lends itself to answering questions about my holiday experience, doesn’t really matter.

As far as how my children find inspiration, I honestly wonder about it myself!  Here’s something interesting dd14 did with the younger kids for Rosh Hashana – when making shaping the challah dough, they talked about the symbolism of round challahs.  Then they decorated each of the eight round challahs with a different design to correspond to their idea.  It was very interesting at the beginning of each meal to look at the challah and try to guess what the significance of the designs were – for example, one had a sun, a moon, and stars – after we tried to figure out the connection, they explained what their intent had been.

Practically speaking, I think it’s the sometimes the little things that happen in the environment that lead to a heightened sense of the specialness of the time of year.  I bought several new cds that I’ve been playing as much as possible – they are from Rutman Music.  One is tunes of the High Holidays, the other is a double cd set of the prayer service for the High Holidays.   The prices were great and there are wonderful full-length demos of the tunes that you can listen to on your computer.  Since I enjoy music, this was helpful to me in getting into the spirit and also is wonderful to have on in the background to enhance the atmosphere in the house .

Another getting into the spirit item was a gift we received from a friend- a set of homemade soap with a special Rosh Hashana theme of apples and honey.  Little things can really make a difference, particularly when they are visual and tactile – these were beautiful to look at and smell, and useful to boot!

Before each holiday, I make an effort to get reading material for the littles that is connected to it.  Often this is fiction related to the time of the year, not necessarily ‘learning’ kind of books.  That helps them get into the spirit of things.

And lastly, I find that I can enjoy the physical preparations as part of the holiday (rather than as an impediment to spirituality) when I leave enough time to do what needs to be done without rushing. I don’t feel apologetic for having the kids involved with cooking or cleaning – the physical preparations are an inherent part of this busy holiday season, and while I don’t consider it a substitute for any other kinds of preparation, I consider the holidays our primary homeschooling focus for this month!


9 thoughts on “Finding inspiration for the holidays

  1. Thank you! I really enjoyed this post. Although my kids are now in the stage where I can daven if I want to (ds7 davened all day long with his father and dd5 was really good- trying to say words with me part of the time and looking though books quietly the rest of the time), I myself am pretty weak lately, and found it very difficult to concentrate adequately, and even had to just go home to sleep when I was urging to hear mussaf.
    I did try telling myself that resting is what I need to be doing at this time of my life but it was quite frustrating not being able to be in shul when I really could for once.
    This post really inspired me- I’m planning to remember it well for Yom Kippur!
    Thanks again

  2. Hi Avivah,
    I wish I could hear this kind of conversation more around holiday times.
    I know for myself and most mothers with young children, there are so many of expectations and obligations around the holiday time.
    At first I was disappointed that I did not have my time in shul to pray and self reflect, but the 30 minutes that I had my children in shul as part of the greater community to hear shofar put all that in the proper perspective that my priority now is their religious growth and experiences.

    1. Nathalie and Lisa – I really think that acceptance of what is, including ourselves and current circumstances, is a huge gift. Expectations are what get us into trouble – reality doesn’t match up with what we were expecting and then we get resentful, guilty, angry. And perspective on what’s really important is what restores us back to sanity!

  3. Avivah, another great post! I had the opportunity to talk to a lot of other young mothers this RH. Most of them wanted to know how I stayed so calm. I just told them that I try to remember a few things during this ‘busy’ time…. My primary job at this stage of my life is to make sure my kids have an enriching Holiday experience – that includes being able to go to Shul as well as to not hear me complain about ‘everything’ that has to be done. I do my utmost to make sure they see me being joyful about holiday preparations, I don’t want them growing up with the idea that it is a chore to prepare for Yom Tov. Also, on the actual day of Yom Tov, I take my kids to Shul later in the morning, I let them have a relaxed morning of playing at home while I daven. That way, when we do get to Shul, I’m not flustered and frustrated because I can’t daven. I can give them the attention they need and not feel like I’m missing something. I also like to keep the perspective that we live in a wonderfully prosperous time with the ability to practise our religion freely. What is there to complain about? :) Its all about perspective, I truly believe that. Thanks for your continued words of inspiration! Gmar chasima tova.

    1. R, great comments and I totally agree with your perspective! Kids pick up so much of their attitude towards the holidays from us, and it’s easy for a mother to grumble about what needs to be done rather than focus on being in the moment.

  4. I love what you wrote and it rang very true to me. And the truth is, I actually don’t like being in shul on yom tov. Totally heretical, right? So now that I am free to be mommy with all that entails I find it so freeing. My kids and I get to do the kind of laid-back, inspired, creative day that yom tov can be when it is more home-centered. And as others have said, the little time spent in shul for shofar blowing was just that much sweeter and more pleasant in the context of the rest of the relaxed day. Thanks for speaking your truth and inspiring us! :)

    1. Sacrilegious to suggest you don’t love being in shul, isn’t it! Even if I were to be in synagogue for the day, because I’m not used to it, I wouldn’t fully enjoy it – you have to have the head space to be able to get into it. And one day I’ll be at that point again, but it’s not right now!

  5. FWIW, I plan on going to a shiur tomorrow evening by my rebbetzin for a boost. I am having a relative babysit, but I do like getting some external inspiration even though my kids are my avodah right now :)

    1. Far be it from me to suggest that someone can’t get inspiration from outside of one’s self just because you’re in the stage of raising children! A good lecture can be a wonderful boost. Who did you hear speak and what was the gist of her message?

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