Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

12 Nissan 5768 - Arpil 17, 2008 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Shemurah Matzo

by A. Rosen


Tzila Hirsch awoke from her reveries and glanced at the old grandfather's clock which had clanged twelve times. Then, just to make sure, she looked again at the clock's hands which left no doubt that it was indeed twelve.

Placing her Tehillim back on the bookshelf, she ambled into the kitchen in order to stir the contents of the pots on the stove. Although she was physically in the kitchen, her heart was elsewhere. It was in three different houses at the same time, trying to venture what was going on in each.

In only a few minutes, she would hear the familiar footsteps of her husband, Reb Yerachmiel, on the paved path leading to the house. He would enter and in his quiet way say "Shalom," remove his hat and his suit jacket and sit down at the table. Then he would ask: "How are the children? Anything new today?"

Generally after placing a steaming bowl of vegetable soup on the table, she would reply, "Boruch Hashem. All three of them called this morning, and everything's fine." This time, though, she added, "I did what you said, Yerachmiel."

The Hirsch family wasn't ordinary insofar as the relationships of its immediate members were concerned. It was extraordinary — the warmth and camaraderie which existed between them defied description.

Reb Yerachmiel and his wife Tzila were parents who seemed to have been born only for their children's sake. They had three sons, all of whom were clever and wise. At the moment of their respective births, their mother had made a silent pact with them — one of dedication, love and endless concern. And they, Refoel, Shimshon and Eliezer returned this love correspondingly.

Reb Yerachmiel and Tzila invested their lifeblood in their children's chinuch and the results were apparent. All of them married fine Jewish girls and raised lovely families, affording Reb Yerachmiel and Tzila a sach nachas.

All three of the Hirsch sons, along with their families, would spend every yom tov at Reb Yerachmiel and Tzila's home. At such times, Tzila, who wasn't a spring chicken anymore, would rush about her chores, baking, cooking, cleaning and arranging, while her daughters-in-law tried to help her.

Whenever anyone suggested that she forego this long-standing custom, or at least accept more help, she would smilingly reply, "It's my nachas. I take it easy all year in order to have enough strength for these days."

Of course for Tzila Hirsch "taking it easy" meant running her own home perfectly and helping each one of her daughters-in- law once a week with their cooking and cleaning.

The high point in their family camaraderie was reached at the Seder night, a night which the Hirsch sons and their families excitedly anticipated. Then, after the final sections of the Haggadah had been recited, all would wish their parents a yasher koach, and say that they hoped to celebrate the following year's Seder with them too.

On that night, Reb Yerachmiel would sit at the head of the elegantly set table, like a king, flanked by his sons and grandchildren on one side, and by his daughters-in-law and granddaughters on the other side. Tzila, the queen, would sit directly opposite him, at the other end of the table.

For the grandchildren, the peak of this joyous occasion was returning the Afikoman to Reb Yerachmiel.

There was only one Afikoman at that Seder and Reb Yerachmiel would divide the matzo in half, and hide it. Reuvi, Eliezer's son, who had agile feet (and hands) would take it in the name of all of his cousins. ("Don't say steal," Reb Yerachmiel would exhort.) Then he would hide it. After that, the Seder would continue as usual.

When the time to eat the Afikoman arrived, all the cousins, from the smallest to the oldest, would line up and state their terms for returning it. With a broad smile and a glowing face, Reb Yerachmiel would promise one a set of mishnayos, another a series of new seforim, and yet another a Mishnah Berurah.

No toys? No bicycles? In the Hirsch family, the uplifted mood of the Seder night didn't induce anyone to ask for toys, cars, puzzles, nor even for albums with pictures of rabbonim. The unique ambience had such a marked affect on the participants, that all thought only about sifrei kodesh.

Of course, Reb Yerachmiel also gave his sons sizable Afikoman gifts every Pesach.

The year our story begins, a strange turnabout, which resulted in a rather unexpected outcome, occurred.


For a long time, Refoel's wife, Rutty, had felt that her youngest brother-in-law, Eliezer, wasn't sharing the task of caring for Reb Yerachmiel and Tzila equally with his siblings. She unleashed her feelings in a casual conversation with Shimshon's wife, and when Shimshon confirmed them, spirits crackled.

In the meantime, Refoel got wind of this situation and joined the bandwagon.

Shimshon and Refoel discussed the situation over the telephone, and decided that something had to be done to correct it. In the meantime, old childhood grudges began to surface and suddenly everyone recalled that Eliezer, the youngest brother, had been favored during childhood because he was particularly weak and sickly.

Don't be mistaken. The Hirsch children weren't deprived as children. Quite to the contrary, they were showered with attention and love. But that's how resentment works. First it raises past memories and then it interprets them according to the current situation.

That year, when Refoel and Shimshon learned that Eliezer would be given the room they regarded as the choice one, their feelings were "confirmed." That year, the Afikoman was taken and hidden as usual. The grandchildren stated their conditions for returning it, and Reb Yerachmiel agreed. However, when Reuvi returned to the room white as a sheet, and cried out: "I can't find it," a commotion erupted.

Immediately, Refoel, Shimshon and Eliezer jumped up and began to search the rooms. Poor Reuvi began to stammer that he had placed it on the dresser in the main bedroom, and that it simply wasn't there. The dresser was moved, the beds pulled aside, but the matzo was still nowhere in sight.

"Well, if there is no Afikoman, there are no gifts," Reb Yerachmiel flatly declared.

But that didn't help, because it simply couldn't be found.

Without an Afikoman, the children began to search for the culprit, and Reuvi quickly became the butt of all the attacks and charges. Biting remarks were hurled at him, while his brothers, who tried to protect him, were soon were accused of being his accomplices.

Reb Yerachmiel's sons didn't rest on their laurels and they also tried to find the culprits, or better yet, to exploit the situation for settling age-old accounts (of course not as vociferously as the children).

The clock moved ahead with giant steps, and chatzos finally arrived. Reb Yerachmiel called everyone to the table, and with a trembling hand, removed a whole matzo from his own matzo box. Then he divided it into pieces and said, "This will be our Afikoman."

The matzo still between his teeth, Refoel's son Moishe hissed to Reuvi: "You're to blame. Why didn't you tell us where you hid the Afikoman?"

Reuvi crinkled his nose. He knew that it wasn't the time for settling accounts, and that Saba Yerachmiel wouldn't let a mundane word be uttered at his Seder table.

However, the moment the family finished reading the Haggadah, a brawl erupted in the next room, as cousins shot arrows at Reuvi and Reuvi fought back.

The older cousins who tried to calm the younger ones were unwillingly drawn into the brawl, and the missing Afikoman became the basis for the unpleasant mood which pervaded the Hirsch home the following day.

Instead of playing together, each one of the cousins huddled under his blankets or in his corner. Tense silence loomed overhead and, as in all childish fights, the bickering did not end with words, but soon became a skirmish. A fist fight broke out in the afternoon — one cousin claiming, the other countering him. At that point, Refoel, the oldest Hirsch son, tapped one of Eliezer's children on the shoulder, ever so lightly, and tried to remove him from the room.

We don't know how Eliezer, and most of all his wife, reacted to that gesture (and even if we did know, we have forgotten). But this we know quite well: that evening, the Hirsch sons left their parents' home in very grumpy moods. Each one of them, of course smiled broadly when he said good-bye to Rav Yerachmiel and Tzila and warmly thanked them for the large boxes, filled with baked goods and kugels, which had been shoved into their hands. But that was it. From then on, the good-fellowship which had existed between the various branches of the Hirsch family was gone.

That year, they didn't pay each other their customary chol hamoed visits, and everyone, accept for Shimshon, avoided the family gathering at Reb Yerachmiel and Tzila's home on the last day of Pesach. Although the cousins came the following day to help Tzila put the dishes away, Reb Yerachmiel could see that the fire was spreading and wreaking havoc on his beloved family.

From that day on, the relationships between the Hirsch brothers and their respective families steadily worsened. Of course, the Hirsch children were still very close with their parents and would call them a few times a day, and even pop over for visits once or twice a week. Shimshon continued to study bechavrusa with his father, while Tzila still visited her sons and her daughters-in-law, although she didn't involve herself in the painful fight.


Days continued to flow by. However beneath the surface, the waters raged.

At first, Yerachmiel had hoped that life in his home would resume its regular course. However, he quickly discovered that his sons diplomatically refused Tzila's invitations for them come for pan-family Shabbosim. When Reb Yerachmiel asked why they no longer felt comfortable together, he would receive answers such as: the family has grown; the children are older; Shuki was sick all week... Quite soon, fancied childhood grudges became steady topics of conversation in the various Hirsch homes during supper, after the children had gone to sleep.

Good chinuch was the trademark of the Hirsch sons, and they were very careful not to utter even one derogatory remark about their siblings or nieces and nephews in the presence of their children. However what they and their wives didn't realize was that atmosphere cannot be controlled, and that poison injected into a home's air necessarily harms its occupants.

When the kindergarten rebbe told Refoel: "Your Itzik fights a lot with his cousin in class," Refoel, casually replied, "That's the way kids are. It'll pass soon." How could a kindergarten child know that earlier that morning, his father had crossed the street in order to avoid meeting Eliezer face to face? If Refoel recalled correctly, he was the only one present at that disgraceful scene. What had that to do with fights between cousins in kindergarten? a recent PTA meeting, the teacher had told Eliezer's wife: "Your daughter, Yocheved seems tense." However, she claimed that she didn't know why. A mosquito which pecked away at her mind tried to link the teacher's comment to the family feud. Whisking it away, Eliezer's wife seemed to be saying, "Hey little mosquito, don't you know that the children don't hear what we say, and have no idea that something's brewing. So what if this morning, five year old Motti asked, for the tenth time, why we haven't visited uncle Shimshon for a number of months, and haven't seen their newly born cousin." Deep down, she prayed that Motti wouldn't ask what the baby was called. She simply didn't know.

And oy, poor Reb Yerachmiel. At first he had simply hoped that the longed-for peace would soon return. When he saw that no one was seeking it, he tried to enable it in various ways, but with no success. However, when Rav Adler, the mashgiach in the Maayan HaTorah yeshiva, reported that the study-partnership between the two Hirsch cousins had dissolved, and that the friendship between the two had dwindled, a light turned on in Reb Yerachmiel's mind, and his heart sank.

He didn't hear Rav Adler say that the two cousins were still among the yeshiva's best students, and that the split had apparently been caused by the laxity common at the end of the zman.

In general, encounters with Rav Adler had been boosters which had sustained him for many months, during which he would repeat the mashgiach's compliments to Tzila over and over again, as their tears of happiness mingled with the vapors of the piping cups of tea before them.

But this time, the tears were salty and burning.

As if that weren't enough, that evening Tzila popped the $24,000 question: "What will be at the Seder this year?"

The recollection of the past Seder was still fresh in their minds and set their teeth on edge.

Rav Yerachmiel knew that his sons would give excuses to celebrate the Seder alone that year with their respective families. However, he was determined not to let that happen. On that night, all would sit together in his home, and celebrate the Seder together.

How would that be accomplished? Reb Yerachmiel trusted that Hashem would present him with a solution, especially since Tzila had finished the entire Tehillim that week a few times, pleading with the Ribono Shel Olam to alleviate the sorrow which had beset their home.


That day, when Reb Yerachmiel returned home and heard that Tzila had fulfilled his request, he felt that the first step on the way to the fulfillment of their hopes had been taken, and that headway soon would be made.

On the night of bedikas chometz, Rav Yerachmiel examined every nook and cranny of the house by the light of a wax candle. The house was pitch dark, but they anticipated the great light which would shine there the following day. Jars of cherein already graced the counter, and the cherein had come out just as Rutty liked it — sharp and tangy. "I'll make the apple kugel in the morning, because Shimshon likes it freshly baked. There will be a Seder here tomorrow, a lovely Seder," Tzila confidently told herself. But then her thoughts led her to the Afikoman.

The chometz had already been burned, and the odor of the smoke had passed with the wind. The table was royally set. But Yerachmiel and Tzila paced the house like caged lions. They had no more patience or strength to wait.

They knew that their children would come late. They themselves had asked them to do so, claiming that it was hard for Tzila to function with the children underfoot. Nonetheless...

Eliezer arrived first. With a broad smile and a warm laugh, he greeted his parents and tasted some of Tzila's delicacies. Then he went to the inner rooms to unpack his suitcase.

Shimshon arrived a few moments later.

"What? You're here too? How nice." Shimshon's wife called out to Eliezer's wife. "Ima said that we would be here alone this year."

When Refoel came with his family, the picture became clear. Each one had been invited, like a ben yochid, to this triple-fold rendezvous.

Rav Yerachmiel filled the vacuum of silence by sending his sons to the rooms allocated for them, and urging them to prepare for the yom tov. The small children who were playing together in the living room proved that the second step had been taken, and with a right foot. Now the most important hurdle had to be conquered: the Afikoman.

Every detail of that day had been carefully planned. Tzila called Shimshon and Refoel into the kitchen to help her arrange the food on the Shabbos blech, and Shimshon's daughter Rivki and her cousin, Eliezer's daughter Ruchie, were asked to dish out the nuts.

The ice still hadn't been totally broken, and but the tension and the stifling feelings which had lingered in the house in the afternoon had begun to melt.

"Kadesh," Reb Yerachmiel called out in his warm voice, as he glanced at his dear ones.

All were there. No one was missing.

When they reached Yachatz, all squirmed uncomfortably. The recollection of the past year's Afikoman hit them full force. Rav Yerachmiel took the matzo, broke it in half, wrapped the large part, and declared: "This year, I am taking the Afikoman. This year, all of you will give me and Savta a gift."

"And what a gift," Tzila silently added.

When they reached Shulchan Oreich, the tension mounted. All eagerly awaited to hear what Reb Yerachmiel would say when they reached Tzofun. They knew wouldn't emerge from that Seder blamelessly, and even the small children sensed the imminent drama.

Rav Yerachmiel sat in his place deep in thought. Suddenly, he rose, and pounding on the table, announced, "Tzofun."

His face sunk within his white beard, and took on the hue of his kittel. Refoel jumped up, and wanted to get him some water. But when Reb Yerachmiel began to speak in a confident tone, Refoel calmed down.

"My dearest grandchildren," Reb Yerachmiel began against the backdrop of Tzila's quiet weeping. "Exactly a year ago, when I called out Tzofun, all of you came forward and stated your demands for the Afikoman. After you received positive answers, you wanted to return the Afikoman. But it had disappeared, as if swallowed by the earth."

Shimshon leaned back on his pillow, and felt that he couldn't bear the tension any longer. Refoel twisted about uncomfortably, while the women lowered their eyes.

"You searched and searched," Reb Yerachmiel continued, "and didn't find it. But how could you have found it, when I had put in my matzo box, right beside me? Yes, I removed the Afikoman from the dresser."

Even the smaller children knew that the question "why" wasn't appropriate at that moment, and that the rest of the story would be surprising and even a bit bemusing.

"During the weeks before Pesach of last year, Ima and I felt that an ugly wave was threatening to drown our generally warm family relationships. Of course, you continued to respect me and Ima. But we felt that certain resentments were festering among you, and we sensed the petty envy and ill-will. How did we feel this? Don't ask: a mother's heart, a father's eyes.

"At first we thought we were imagining things. But when you came for yom tov, I knew that we hadn't been mistaken.. Yet I had hoped that it was something minor and passing."

No one dared to glance at the clock, as if not wishing to recall chatzos of that previous year.

"What worried me most was that the animosity might very shortly seep into the hearts of the children, and ruin their warm, mutual relationships. Then and there, I decided to take action. And so, I took the Afikoman myself, hoping that when the loss was discovered, a fight would develop between the children, and that they would demand that the culprit be reprimanded.

"I hoped that you, my dear sons, would find a way to extinguish the fire and to explain to your small children that losing an Afikoman isn't the end of the world, and that peace and unity are far more important. I assumed that I would get up and announce that I had taken the Afikoman in order to test you, and that you would prove that sholom was more important to you than the loss of the Afikoman.

"But I was disappointed — sorely so. While the children fought over who was to blame you, the parents, engaged in similar, even sharper arguments. Although they were subtle, they were caustic. When I heard remarks like: `Just look at that grin on Eliezer's face. If it wasn't his son, I don't know what would happen here,' or `Why is Eliezer so calm? Doesn't he realize that he's responsible for his son's behavior?'

"Then I knew that I had overestimated you, my dear children. At that moment, I decided that I would distribute the Afikoman, without your knowing that it was the supposedly missing matzo. I still hoped that during the yom tov all of you would come to your senses, and that I would be able to reveal the secret. But as you know, that didn't happen.

"A year has passed, a very unhappy and difficult one for all of us. But here we are again — chatzos on Leil Haseder, and it's time to eat the Afikoman.

"Now I will say what I had so hoped you would say: Sholom is our most precious asset. No loss or lack can lessen its value, nor should any loss undermine it. It must prevail under all circumstances."

At that point, Yerachmiel removed one matzo from his personal matzo box, broke it into pieces, and placed them in separate plastic bags.

All looked at him in astonishment, but he ignored their looks.

"Each one will soon receive a bag, and I bid each and every one of you to keep your bag in your coat pocket the entire year. Next erev Pesach, burn these bags at sreifas chometz and, on Leil Haseder, replace them with new plastic bags which contain pieces of Afikoman. This matzo shemurah — guarded matzo — will remind you of the resentment you guarded in your hearts, and which on this night you eliminated and burned. This matzo shemurah will remind you that there is no greater blessing in the world than sholom.

Then, with trembling hands, Reb Yerachmiel distributed the bags to all the members of his family.


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