By Mordechai Schmutter
This week, in honor of yom tov, we present another Q-and-A column, in which I answer several questions sent in by confused readers who apparently don’t have friends they can talk to. So they’ve taken to proving the old Jewish adage that there’s no such thing as a stupid question. Just stupid answers.
Q. I’m totally blanking on what foods I should make for Pesach.
A. I would say to keep lists of what you’ve made for previous years, or ideas that you had back then that you didn’t make.
I used to be against making these lists. I’d say, “I don’t want to have these foods again. I just had them! Last Pesach! A year ago! Oh.”
So it might be okay to have them again.
Q. What is the best room to clean first?
A. There is no best room. If you have little kids, by which I mean “kids that do not have kids of their own,” any room you finish cleaning will automatically be the one they want to eat in. Kids love walking around the house with food. We sit around the dinner table, and my kids feel the need to journey into the living room between bites, and I can’t grab them because, as a Totty, it was my genius idea to sit all the way at the head of the table with my back to the wall. I figured I could see the whole room that way. So yeah, I can see them in the living room, wiping their faces on the couch we never put in the laundry, but I can’t grab them before they get there.
So my suggestion is not to divide your house into rooms (even though the builder already did that). My advice is, instead, to clean the house from top to bottom. And by “top to bottom,” I mean to first go through the entire house cleaning everything that is six feet or more off the floor. Then go down to five feet. Then four. Those things should stay clean longer, because (a) Your kids are short; and (b) Crumbs fall downward, unless your kids have a good arm. Fortunately, my kids, if they’re anything like me, don’t.
You should also hide anything that looks like a stepstool, or store the stepstool high up—high enough that to reach it, you will need a second stepstool.
Q. Is there anything specific that you’d suggest cleaning?
A. Yes, your kids’ knapsacks. Kids’ knapsacks are always big and heavy—bigger than the kid who wears them—even though when you ask him what he has for homework, he’ll say, “Nothing.”
So what’s in there? It’s food. An entire year’s worth of food. You know that unidentifiable “house smell” that hits you every time you come in the front door, and you can’t figure out where it’s coming from no matter how much you scrub? That smell is coming from right near the front door. It’s the knapsacks.
Q. Pesach is early this year, and I totally didn’t see it coming, despite Purim and Tu B’Shevat warning me. What do I do about all this food that I bought out of habit?
A. I think you have to eat it. Getting rid of chametz before Pesach is basically like loading up on carbs, like Pesach is a big race and we need energy for 40 years in the desert.
“It’s a bread sandwich! With extra bread!”
“It looks like you’re just holding half a loaf of bread.”
Q. Every year, around Pesach, a local yeshiva mails me a small manila envelope containing a candle, a wooden spoon, and, I’m pretty sure, part of a bird. Is this some kind of prank?
A. No, it’s actually a bedikas chametz kit.
Q. Oh. I thought maybe they were cleaning the yeshiva and mailing people the random things that they found. So why don’t they send ten pieces of bread, while they’re at it?
A. Sometimes the mail takes forever these days, and the last thing they need is for everyone’s bread to show up at their houses on Pesach, in a big envelope with the yeshiva’s name on it.
Q. Okay. What on earth am I supposed to do with the spoon?
A. I’m not sure. You only have two hands, which isn’t really enough hands to hold three items, one of which is a lit candle. You can put the feather in your hat and call it “macaroni,” which is chametz, and you’d have to burn it.
But then you’re holding a wooden spoon and a lit candle, so your hands are still full. So what are you supposed to do when you find chametz? Yell at it? Hit it with the spoon? Someone did not think this through. Are you supposed to somehow get it onto the spoon? In that case, you’re going to need at least ten spoons.
In our house, we actually take the spoon out and use it for Pesach cooking—“Hey, a new spoon!” We have 11 wooden Pesach spoons at the moment and no idea what to do with them all. We’re eating marror off of them. But instead of the spoon, we substitute a dustpan. I melt the bottom of the candle onto the dustpan so I can hold it all in one hand, and in the other, I hold the feather, which I use to sweep the chametz into the dustpan, as far from the candle as I possibly can, because it’s a Chanukah candle. Do you know how long those candles are supposed to last? A half-hour. Even if you have a smallish starter house made up of three bedrooms and a hallway; a living room, dining room, and kitchen; and a basement of two rooms, that gives you about two minutes per room until the candle burns all the way down and the bread catches fire.
Q. Two minutes? That should be enough.
A. Not really. Sure, my wife wonders why I have such a hard time finding the chametz that she hides pretty much in plain sight, but I’m not good at looking for anything while balancing a lit candle on a dustpan. My main thought, in going through the house, isn’t “What places could possibly contain chametz that I didn’t think of to clean in the last two months?” It’s “Don’t burn the house down. Don’t burn the house down. What’s that smell? Oh my goodness, the knapsack’s on fire!”
At some point, I just switch to a flashlight or a bigger candle. A Shabbos candle, or, if it’s a particularly messy year, a yahrzeit candle. Or one of those big scented candles. That way, if the room smells like vanilla, I know I’ve been there long enough. I think I have some half yahrzeit candles left over from Sandy.
Q. What would you suggest I do to make Pesach cleaning easier?
A. You’ve been paying attention, right? I would consider selling the kids. Except that you need them for the Seder. We’re put in a very difficult position over here. v
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.