| Breakthrough |

Stop the Time  

If anyone ever wondered how different two brothers could be, they could come look at Nachi and Yudi for their answer


Yudi leaned over the mixture on his desk. Was it his imagination, or were there bubbles starting to form on the surface? How long had it been anyway? The stopwatch in his hand read three minutes, thirty-one seconds to go, so according to the book — he spun around and checked the book splayed out on his bed — it should’ve been showing a “frothy layer of bubbles” already.

Why did science have to be so... non-scientific?

Yudi sighed. He bent over the Pyrex dish again, prodded the mixture. There, something was starting to happen… or maybe not.

“Yuuuudi,” he heard, and someone started opening the door to his room.

“Don’t come in!” he yelped. “There’s something on the floor!”

The Pyrex dish was left to its own devices as Yudi skidded across the bedroom. An assortment of tools, wires, and plastic tubes were arranged in methodical piles right in the line of danger. He scooped them up and deposited them carefully on the bed, behind the book. This room was too small for a budding scientist.

“Can I come in now?” his older brother Nachi asked, sounding annoyed. “Whatcha doing in here, anyway? More experiments?” He wrinkled his nose. “Don’t you get enough of that in school?”

“I like it,” Yudi mumbled, but he could feel his face turning red. Nachi was a basketball star, happiest while he was playing sports, and hated anything related to school or books. And Nachi thought he, Yudi, was a total nerd for choosing reading, stargazing, and scientific experimenting as his favorite hobbies.

If anyone ever wondered how different two brothers could be, they could come look at Nachi and Yudi for their answer.

“I just don’t get you,” Nachi said. “Here we are, on a beautiful spring day, the first sunny day we’ve had since forever. Ma said she’d take us to the park to go biking on the new trail, and you’re probably going to say you’d prefer to stay here and go on with your…” He gestured around, at the wires and tubes and mixtures on Yudi’s desk. “I mean, what do you even do it for? You think you’re gonna be an Einstein and invent gravity?”

“That was Isaac Newton, and he didn’t invent gravity, he discovered it,” Yudi answered with dignity. “And no, I don’t want to go to the park, I’m right in the middle of something here.”

“Who even cares about Einstein and Newton?” Nachi rolled his eyes. “Your loss, bro, we’re going now.”

The stopwatch beeped. Time to add the next ingredients to the mix.

“Enjoy,” Yudi said, breathing a sigh of relief. There was the chemical mixture on his desk, and then there was the new project he was right in the middle of… and needed to finish by the end of this week.

After all, a sand timer that measured time for exactly 18 minutes wouldn’t be much use after the matzah bakery closed for the year, would it?


“What’s that in your bag?” Nachi asked Yudi, as they made their way to the matzah bakery with their father. “They don’t let you bring snacks or anything, you know.”

“It’s not a snack,” Yudi mumbled. Why was Nachi always putting him on the spot like that? Now he’d have to show his invention, and Nachi would make fun.

“What is it then?” Nachi persisted. “Don’t tell me you’re bringing a book to read. We’re not gonna have a second to spare there.”

“It’s not a book,” Yudi said. “It’s just something I made… a timer. For 18 minutes.”

Nachi’s mouth dropped open. “You’re kidding me!” he said, with a theatrical gasp. “They have a clock, you know! A stopwatch! They don’t need your little invention! Who said it even works?”

“Of course it works, I tested it,” Yudi said defensively. “And Ta said I could bring it along to put by the ovens, it will help them keep track of the time, it’s a sand timer so it’s easy to see exactly how long we have left.”

“By the ovens? So embarrassing,” moaned Nachi. “Everyone’s gonna be staring at us. A homemade sand timer!”

“Boys, boys, let’s not get into an argument now, we’re nearly at the matzah bakery,” their father intervened mildly.

Yudi closed his lips tightly. Nachi had no idea how hard he’d worked to get that timer just perfect. Weighing the sand. Calculating the amounts (the book had shown a timer for half an hour, so he’d had to divide everything by 30 and multiply by 18, and sometimes he’d gotten complicated numbers with a zillion decimal places as his answers). And the amazing feeling of satisfaction when he’d figured it all out, and his invention was all working and ready.


In the matzah bakery, there was noise and bustle and a sense of anticipation in the air. Ta took the boys over to the front table, near the ovens, where the rav was sitting with a sefer in his hand.

“Of course, we’ll be happy to use your timer,” the rav told Yudi warmly when he explained what he’d done. “We’ll keep it by the oven. It will be a big help for us.”

“Yeah, right,” Nachi muttered in Yudi’s ear. Yudi had been smiling shyly, but at Nachi’s comment, the smile disappeared. It should’ve been exciting to see his invention in full view and actually being used, but Nachi’s nasty words were draining the fun out of it.

There was a commotion at the other end of the room. “We’re starting! Everyone to your places!” someone called.

Ta, Nachi, and Yudi took their places along the long table, special rollers in hand to prick the matzos all over and create tiny holes.

“Now!” a man with a large watch shouted, and the process began.

Flour, water, kneading, rolling, pricking, onto the long poles, into the oven… hands flew back and forth, dough passed from one person to the next, and the room felt hot. Was it the heat of the ovens? Or the crackling energy and the fast movements?

“L’sheim matzos mitzvah,” Tatty was saying over and over, and Yudi whispered along, feeling a thrill up his spine. He was part of the group making matzos for Pesach! What an opportunity. And his very own invention was being used to help with the mitzvah!

He glanced over at Nachi, energetically flipping the dough over to the next person in line, and his excitement fizzled out. Nachi was right, they didn’t need his invention. They had a stopwatch, and a man holding it, like every year. And a big clock on the wall. The rav was just being nice to him. What a waste of all that time and energy… would anyone even appreciate it?

“Ten more minutes!”

Yudi redoubled his efforts, working faster than ever. His hands looked like a blur even to his own eyes. But somehow, Nachi was moving even faster, he was doing two matzos in the time Yudi took to do one.

“Eight more minutes!” The man called again, reminding everyone to hurry. Soon they would be finished the first batch and move onto the next. Yudi’s arms were getting tired, although Nachi seemed full of energy. Maybe it was all that basketball that he practiced so often?

“Five more minutes,” said the man, and the frenzy of activity picked up. Just then, there was a call from near the ovens. “Wait! Stop, everyone!”

“Stop? But there’s only a few minutes left!”

“We need to keep going, there’s still dough here….”

“We have four more minutes!” the man with the watch cried, waving it high in the air.

“No, the time is up already, look!” said someone else, and he pointed at Yudi’s sand timer, prominently displayed in the front of the room. The last grains of sand were quietly seeping through the timer’s neck, settling in a heap at the bottom. “The 18 minutes are over! The leftover dough is chometz!”

The matzah bakery exploded in confusion.

“But the stopwatch…!”

The Rav stood up in the middle of the room. “Here’s what we’ll do,” he said calmly, and the room went quiet. “Let’s bring the clock, the stopwatch, and the timer, and check which one is faulty.”

The tables were cleared and cleaned — and the leftover dough, which would definitely be chametz by now, was carefully removed by a few of the men. The plastic tablecloths were stripped, the special rollers taken to be cleaned, and everything inspected to check that not a speck of the old dough remained.

Yudi and Nachi watched in suspense as the rav set up the big clock next to the stopwatch and Yudi’s sand timer. When the clock struck the hour, the Rav pressed start on the stopwatch and simultaneously turned over the sand timer.

Yudi held his breath. Was his timer wrong? He’d tested it so many times….

The minutes ticked by. Everyone watched the clock move toward 18 minutes. The sand timer was losing its sand in a steady, thin stream. And the stopwatch…

The Rav was looking at the watch and frowning. After a few minutes, he shook his head decisively. “The stopwatch seems to be running slow,” he announced. “See, the clock shows that it’s already been almost 15 minutes — and the stopwatch is saying there’s still another eight minutes to go.”

The sand timer finished exactly as the clock ticked 18 minutes. The stopwatch, however, was lagging far behind.

“Thanks to Yudi’s invention, we realized in time, and saved everyone from eating matzos that would have been chometz!” the rav announced, beaming.

Yudi smiled back, exhilarated. His invention was working fine! And not only that, it had saved the day!

“Everyone’s staring,” Nachi mumbled in his ear. This time, though, Yudi didn’t mind the comment at all.

The sand timer was returned to its place near the oven and someone offered a new stopwatch so that everyone could be told how many minutes they had left.

“Is everyone in position? Then, we’re starting now!”

Nachi and Yudi stood at the ready, sparkling clean rollers in hand. They waited as the first person in the chain measured flour and water and the matzah baking began.

“So, your sand timer is actually working,” Nachi said, and for a change his voice sounded a little bit admiring. “Must have been a hard thing to build from scratch, huh?”

“Yeah, but I enjoyed it,” Yudi said. Privately, he thought that there were harder things to build — like a good relationship with his brother. Like the ability to accept each other, even with their differences, their opposite personalities, their contrasting hobbies.

The dough made its way down the table.

“Here it comes,” Nachi said, leaning forward to start rolling.

Yudi reached out for his piece of the dough, smiling happily, as at the end of the room, the sand timer slowly trickled on.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 854)

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