By Elia MEGHNAGI, Director, Snowcrest
You do not need to be a Talmudic scholar to know there are 613 commandments in the Torah. Nor do you need to be a talmid chacham to know they cannot possibly apply to all of the people all of the time.
In fact, some apply to all of us all the time (to those over bar/batmitzvah age). Some apply to some of us all of the time and some apply to some of us, some of the time. There are, of course variations – even within these categories.
However, in my family there is a 614th commandment, an unwritten law: “Thou shalt not utter the ‘P’ word in the presence of your wife during the month of March”. Do so at your peril.
If you are lucky, you might get away with being sent to Coventry (a wall of silence) or perhaps you’ll get away with buying her a new sheitel. In other words: “Beware the wives of March”. Pesach mania strikes again!
Why does the mere mention of the word Pesach evoke such terror and panic in our wives and mothers?
Pesach, the quintessential festival that commemorates our freedom from slavery, heralds its coming with the antithesis of freedom: a month (at least!) of non-stop hard work and chaos.
It seems that one cannot appreciate real freedom before experiencing real hard labour.
I remember how, when our family was still in Libya, my mother used to carry out the meticulous pre-Pesach planning, cleaning, painting, sewing, polishing, decorating, indeed practically going through all the 39 melachot. She was a one-man army, the sergeant-major allocating the work for all of us, including our Berber helper.
For my parents, the Pesach preparations struck true panic. But for us children, it was an exciting time and an invaluable and unique experience.
As soon as the Purim festivities – the merrymaking, banging, the cheering of Mordechai and booing of Haman – were over, the Meghnagis went into a febrile superdrive, the tempo moving into the fast lane.
Every cupboard and wardrobe was emptied and dusted; every floor, wall, ceiling, door, window, stool, chair, sink, bath, oven was scrubbed, vacuumed, painted, cleaned, labelled. Saucepans and cutlery were scrubbed, burnt and boiled, glasses filled and refilled with fresh water each night. Nothing was left out. Even the water tank up on the hot Benghazi rooftop was flushed, washed, rinsed and refilled with clean water.
We all helped, with my brothers and baby sister busily trying to look important till someone would scream: “Cruuuumbs”. Then we would down tools and get ready to do battle. “Bring the big gun!” the youngest would shout.
My father, armed with a sad excuse for a vacuum cleaner, would place its head on the pathetic crumb and suck it up, only to drop it. We would rush to the scene armed with brushes and pans, brooms, shovels, even magnifying glasses, declaring war on the crumb. Then my father, with a triumphant smile, would shout: “Got it!” Job done.
All this drama was really designed to provide some light relief and a welcome break; we’d clap and proceed with the cleaning task.
Today, despite the advent of electrical aids, the rush, the drama, the panic and the elbow grease remain – with one difference: The wife is more likely to have two jobs.
She’ll be a teacher, a secretary, a lawyer, a nurse, etc, as well as a housewife. From October onwards, the radio, television, newspapers and stores bombard our non-Jewish neighbours with adverts and advice on how best to prepare, shop, cook and serve for their one major meal of the year (about which they panic for weeks!).
Compare this with what we expect of our Jewish mothers and wives. Apart from all the preparations explained above, they have to plan, shop and cook for the Sedarim, Yom Tov and Shabbat, not only for their immediate family, but also the visiting grandchildren, uncles, aunts, cousins and friends, not for just one or two days, but often for up to eight days.
If a housewife can survive all this and arrive at Pesach with her nerves intact and looking like the Queen, then she’s made of special stuff.
She’s a supermum, a Jewish mum; she is a true Eshet Chayil.