Seven festive meals over 4 days is a lot of work: planning, shopping, cooking, table setting, serving, table clearing and cleaning up. Doing it again. And again. And again. To complicate things more, we want to go to shul if we can, and not be distracted by mental lists of unfulfilled kitchen duties when we really want to focus on our davening.
This line of thinking is fertile ground for the Yetzer Hara. He is making his plan of attack just as we are planning our menus. He is focused on tripping us up just as we are focusing on the guest list. He thrills at making us feel burdened and overwhelmed, or immersed in mastering creative culinary challenges. With all our work, he works to see that we have no energy or desire to even think about tshuva.
Ultimately, the Yetzer Hara wants us to be so preoccupied preparing for Rosh Hashanah meals and guests, that we miss out on this great opportunity in Elul to connect to Hashem. To think that we can really get every detail on our lists done perfectly and appear in shul to daven sincerely is a recipe for frustration, depression and disconnection. Disconnection from our greater purpose is the most effective weapon of the Yetzer Hara.
Success Starts With a Plan
In Elul the battle can be won, but we have to have a two-pronged battle plan. One plan is for the practical reality of managing a 3-day yom tov: Start well in advance making your lists. First, be sure everyone has the clothing they need purchased (tags removed), altered, pressed, cleaned and accessorized. Including you!
Second, invite your guests and remember to include singles, less observant acquaintances and those who may otherwise be alone over the festive days ahead. Finally, make your menus. Plan soups, meat dishes and baked goods that you can freeze ahead. Set aside a day or several evenings to fill your freezer.
Finish your menus with lots of fresh salads and simple side dishes. Simple lighter fare to compliment your traditional dishes will be totally appreciated. Prepped ingredients such as peeled and chopped carrots, peppers, garlic, celery, cucumbers etc. will store in separate plastic bags for 5-7 days. Salad dressing keeps for 7-10 days.
Write out you plan and make a reasonable time line of when you will accomplish your tasks. Post it for all to see and assign tasks to family members. And remember, we plan but the result, as well as the bumps along the way, is up to Hashem.
Armed For Battle
Now that our plan is in place, our Adversary will be looking for any vulnerable spots to attack. Here's where we really have to strengthen ourselves to face the challenge. Elul is the most opportune time for our victory, and since the Yetzer Hara wants us to disconnect, it makes sense that our most effective weapon is prayer.
Chazal say that women, because we use the power of prayer to develop a relationship with G-d, have a greater sense of Hashem's Majesty. The service on Rosh Hashanah is heavy on the stories of women who prayed and were answered: Sarah, Rachael and Chana. In preparing for Rosh Hashanah, coronation day for the entire world, we look to these women as role models of how to relate to the King. They triumphed in their struggle by turning to the Almighty in sincere, personal prayer.
We Cannot Do Anything Alone
No great liturgy is needed. The sweet, respectful voice of a daughter yearning for connection is precious to her exalted Father. Help me find outfits at a bargain, help the chicken taste really good, help me go to sleep on time, may the baby nap an hour this morning, give me patience, make me strong, help me to forgive...
This year, after all your effort in preparing for Rosh Hashanah, your home will shine with nobility because you asked Hashem to help you have energy. Your meals will taste the love you put into them, because you talked to Hashem as you shopped, chopped and baked. And in your deepest prayers, you asked Him to help you remain joyous, to uproot negative habits, to stop judging and work on developing compassion.
When the great day comes, you will have developed such a close bond with the King who sits in judgment, that the Yetzer Hara will have no choice except to testify on your behalf and say, "No contest, She won!"