Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

7 Nissan 5762 - March 20, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Home and Family
The Ten Plagues of Erev Pesach
by Menucha Fuchs

Pesach is such a wonderful festival -- especially when it is in the distant future and one hasn't begun to contemplate the actual preparations for it -- or at midnight on Seder night, when tired housewives and children grope their way with sleep-locked eyes to their respective beds.

A great holiday, if one disregards the ten plagues that precede it and impede the progress of those who would march steadily to their goal.


The house is a total upside down mess and in vain do you try to distinguish between your right hand and your left one. A good thing that your oldest daughter has taken over the kitchen at this moment and is washing the lunch dishes. Amazing how routine governs us and come what may, we must eat an occasional meal.

Suddenly, a terrified cry from the kitchen. You rush to its source, to find your daughter clutching her hand with a towel and wailing hysterically.

"What happened?"

"Help! I cut myself. I'm bleeding to death..."

You rush to the medicine cabinet and take out some iodine and a bandage and rush back to your daughter who is about to faint from the sight of her own blood. It isn't as bad as she makes it out and soon the flow has been arrested, leaving you looking at the bloody mess in the kitchen, at the pile of soapy dishes on the counter, waiting to be rinsed, and those still in the sink. You look hopefully at your daughter, but she is sitting weakly on a chair, recovering from the trauma.

"Well, I guess that's that. Now I won't be able to work with water until this heals. What can I do?" and she looks at you apologetically, awaiting your sympathy...


Two pailfuls of water and detergent are standing in the doorway of the children's room but you're not ready for the big splash. Your first goal is to prepare those peckelach to send with the kids. Out. Out. You give your last minute instructions to the one in charge and wait for the moment of silence and respite when you can blithely spill those pails and get into every last corner of the room with your scrub brush.

With desperate abandon you tip the buckets, and splash! A few moments of blessed silence as you begin the tedious, backbreaking work. And then the front door opens.

"Ima! I'm not going to that playground, even if you pay me."

"Well, how about the other one further down?"

"Ima, tell her. She wants to take us to the park with the snakes."

"Hey, kids, look! Ima's splashed a flood of water in our bedroom. What fun!"

And before you know it, eight pairs of shoes have been removed, eight pairs of socks slipped off, and eight pairs of feet are hopping, skipping and jumping in the water. One frog and another frog and another...


Who has time right before Pesach for routine things? Lunches dwindle to a one course potpourri of leftover ingredients. Anything in the pantry -- into the pot. Disposables wherever you can. Dress the kids in the same clothing for as long as you can before throwing it into the machine.

Kids can also skip a day between baths. But what about their heads? The lice are living it up! Who's seen the lice comb last, anyway? It's not where you left it. Oh, there it is? Well, who has time for this painstaking, painful task, anyway? Forget it.

And the lice rejoice with their new lice-nse. The more, the merrier. And Murphy's Law gets a new corollary: the less time and energy you have, the more lice you have.


The children's room is finally done. The sign on the door announces it triumphantly and even those who can't read have had it hammered into their heads. The neighbors know it and the kids have reported it in cheider.

So everyone knows that chometz is out of bounds. But what about other things?

"Guess what I found in the empty lot behind the Epsteins?" announces Yanky, triumphantly, hands behind his back.

"Nu?" you demand.

"It's something I've wanted for the longest time, Ima. A turtle!" (Or a porcupine, if you like.)

"And where do you think you're taking it?"

"To my room. Why not?"

"But your room is already clean for Pesach, Yanky!" Desperation in your voice.

"Right. It's not chometzdik, Ima."

And a few moments later, in rushes Shevi, exuberant. "The Mizrachis said we could have their baby chicks. They're in a box downstairs. I'm bringing them up, O.K.? They don't have to eat bread; we can find lots of other things to feed them, like ants and beetles..."


All year round, we keep the open sugar in a closed container. But these aren't normal times, and the bag of sugar nestles in a carton next to the bag of flour and the bag of table salt near the entrance. No problem to find the necessary ingredients for a bracing cup of coffee.

Until one morning, a long line of ants makes its appearance, heading straight for the sugar. You try to head them off and lunge for the bag, hoping to seal it before... But it's already too late. The bag has already spilled and the ants have conquered from within. Another Erev Pesach pest...


"How did this happen?" asks the doctor to the lady sitting opposite him, her little boy on her lap, his finger red and swollen.

"Owwww! It hurts! Don't touch!" he wails. The doctor is not taking any chances -- about touching it, that is, and scribbles a prescription for a salve.

"Just make sure he keeps it clean. Don't go playing around in the dirt, right, Mister?" The doctor pinches Shmueli's cheek instead. Shmueli feels he's been let off easy. Only ointment...

"But I have to play around in the dirt," explains the tyke. The doctor raises a questioning eyebrow. "What do you mean?"

"That's where all the treasures are buried. In the garbage bin. That's where people throw away the best things." Old fans. Bikes without wheels, broken radios, things to take apart...

Shmueli forgets all about the pain and tugs at his mother's hand. Time to get out of here. Too much precious time being wasted. There's still so much garbage to inspect before the truck comes tomorrow to cart all those treasures away...


The washing machine is working overtime, almost round the clock. You take out, hang up, put some things in the drier, even turn on the radiators if it's a cloudy day, so long as the clothing can dry.

You look at the three machine loads you've pinned so neatly on the clothesline, stiff and sparkling white, one after the other without an inch to spare. Now all you have to do is wait for them to dry so that you can hang up the next two loads.

Suddenly, you feel a drop or two. Dirty drops with some gook thrown in, that is, out. It's the neighbor upstairs, or rather, her Romanian maid. Mrs. Cohen would never dream of splashing your laundry, but Olga was not warned to be considerate...

No use screaming at her. She doesn't understand Hebrew. And suddenly, a piece of bread and jam lands on your head and the words that do explode from you are drowned out by a tape turned on to the maximum,

"You've got to help your Ima every day! You've got to help your Ima in every way..."

You cannot help but compare this rainfall to the plague of hail, a plague of a different sort...


There are some kids that even in the seventh grade will write arbe with a hey at the beginning, and vice versa, harbei with an alef. Variations of Israeli cockneys? And it seems that this word becomes entrenched. They want 'arbe 'arbe!

"Ima, I need some new shoes. The ones you bought two months ago are not good enough for Pesach. Besides, everyone in the class buys new shoes..."

"Ima, I need a new dress for Pesach. I saw a stunning one in town for only xxx hundred shekel. That's not so much, considering that Milka bought a new dress for over a thousand..."

"Ima, all my socks are torn. I won't have anything for chol hamoed..."

And the requests come flying like locust, arbe, arbe, harbe, harbe...


Bedikas chometz night. Finally. You've prepared the ten pieces of bread and told the kids not to hide them under the mattresses and not between the folded clothing in the closet, not inside the window planter or in keyholes.

They promise to follow the rules. But year in and year out, you sit for hours in the darkness, like a minyon for maariv waiting for the tenth one to show up. Sorele will have already fallen asleep or forgotten where she put it... Hopefully, it will turn up -- probably in some very unexpected corner.

Children's creativity knows no bounds.


How many hopes you pinned on her, your eldest. You thought she'd be your right hand, that she would take the children to the playground every day, that she'd outshine you at scrubbing tiles and pots, that she'd take over the management of the house and delegate jobs to her minions. So she doesn't do things your way, prefers to splash lots of water, gets sidetracked, spends too much time on the phone, tells you to find a babysitter to take the kids out...

And then, when she does take over, the kids come crying to you in rapid succession: Chumi is too bossy, too demanding and unyielding, not sympathetic enough. And you can't say a word -- this is what you asked for. And you find yourself taking orders from her as well...

Oh, well...

Ten plagues of Erev Pesach, taken with 'arbe humor, a grain of sugar here and there, shedding light on the darkness and so on to the finish line.


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