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The Elusive Tenth     

       I wrote a list, then heralded the squealing children around the house as my husband joyously found one crumb after another

Iwas young. I was tired. And I was at the end of my rope.

My three little angels, ages six, four, and two, had been home all day, crawling under my feet as I chopped onions and tried to vacuum the last few cabinets. By the time suppertime rolled around, I shoved some macaroons and potato chips in their direction, eager for them to go to bed.

But well-educated children that they were, they wanted to stay up to watch bedikas chometz, performed with the candle-plastic spoon-feather craft their teachers had provided. By eight p.m., I wasn’t sure I’d be able to handle another five minutes of their pajama-clad feet crushing ladyfinger crumbs into my freshly washed floors. Desperately, I called my husband for help.

“Why don’t you do bedikas chometz now?” I asked.

“We do it after Maariv,” he answered.

“Can you just pretend?”

Ever obliging, my husband agreed to light the play candle and pretend to search for chometz with the cracked plastic spoon and green feather in his hand. With fanfare, the children and I hid ten silver-foil covered crumbs in various locations around the house. I wrote a list, then heralded the squealing children around the house as my husband joyously found one crumb after another. Finally, finally, it was quiet.

At nine thirty, chicken soup merrily bubbling on the stove, my husband went off to daven Maariv.

I hid the next lot of ten crumbs myself, writing yet another list, albeit in more mature jargon. This time around, my husband recited a proper brachah and walked somberly around the house, swiping silver-foil and plastic-bag double-wrapped crumbs into a bag. I crossed the places off my list, one at a time. Kitchen counter, check. Playroom windowsill, check. Back of the couch, check, coat closet, check, check. Soon, the list was complete, all the places crossed off. Quick recount. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine. Nine. Count again. Nine. Wait. No. No, no, no. Ten on the list, all crossed off, nine in the bag. How was this supposed to work? Nine? Ten? Help!

We started again. Coat closet. Windowsill. Nu, nu. My husband was motioning wildly, pointing, searching. There were wax drippings from the candle all over the floors. Where was the tenth crumb?

We moved the couch. Unpacked every closet. Turned on the light in the sleeping kids’ room. This was the stuff of horror novels. It didn’t happen in my orderly life. Couldn’t. Wouldn’t.

I called for backup in the form of my then-unmarried brothers. At midnight, the candle burned out, and my husband broke his silence to go sell the chometz, but still, the search continued.

And I, married for seven full years, marveled at my husband’s composure. As we turned the house inside out, searched through the garbage can, checked the mailbox, I wondered how I would have reacted had he been the one to misplace something important. Would I have smiled and said, mistakes happen, or (more likely!) would I have kvetched about how you couldn’t trust men with anything? The thought was not a pleasant one.

At some point after two a.m., we decided to call it a night. In the morning, after a quick call to our LOR, we officially stopped searching. I use the term officially to mark the end of the real search, but I couldn’t stop checking once more, in one more place, just quickly making sure. All day, as I prepared the charoses and turned down the flames, the image of the tenth crumb haunted me.

I knew I’d prepared ten foil packets, hidden ten of them. None of the kids had eaten it; if they had, where was the telltale wrapping? Where could it be?

By Chol Hamoed, my heart resumed its regular rhythm. Crumb Number Ten almost forgotten, I took my children on outings, fried yummy Pesach French fries, and drank freshly squeezed orange juice with pleasure. Then it was Erev the Second Days; time to furiously cook and clean up a storm once again. Hurriedly grabbing two rags from my endless pile to tackle the bathrooms one more time before the zeman, I heard something crinkle beneath my hand. Plastic. Plastic bag. Silver foil. Chometz crumb number ten. In my bin of cleaning rags in the linen closet.

I slowly backed away from the offending closet, concentrating on my breathing. In. Out. What do I do now? My husband wasn’t home; not that I wanted him home at that minute. The fewer people who saw this offending thing, the better.

When my brain cleared, I envisioned the piece, which I’d hidden in the linen closet, falling down to the bottom shelf, into my pile of cleaning shmattehs. When I’d taken a load out of the dryer, I’d placed a new pile of cleaning rags on top of the clean ones in the bin, essentially hiding the crumb from myself.

Since I distinctly remembered finding a crumb in the linen closet when we’d done the children’s version of bedikas chometz, I must have absentmindedly crossed the linen closet off my list during the real bedikas chometz.

This time I called the LOR myself. (Thanks for being so available at all these crazy times, Rabbi A.!) The psak was simple. Flush it down the toilet. But how could I? It was wrapped in plastic and foil! “So unwrap it,” he said.

Unwrap a real piece of bread, on Erev Shvii shel Pesach no less. Look-hold-touch-see pure, born-and-bred (excuse the pun) chometz. My hands were shaking as I did the deed, quickly, before I chickened out.

I washed my hands vigorously in the bathroom sink before venturing near my Pesach kitchen for last-minute preparations. My husband walked in moments later, listened to my tale of woe, and shrugged easily. “So that’s that,” he said calmly.

It’s a yearly Pesach struggle for me, to feel that feeling of liberation, of renewal and optimism of new beginnings when I work so hard to prepare for Yom Tov. Yet every year, as I watch my kids hide the ten crumbs, I remember my husband’s calm reaction to the lost tenth crumb and my realization that achieving true liberation is hard work, and it comes from the middos we develop and the personal goals we conquer.

My now-grown children mock-mussar me for trying to fool them with a pretend bedikas chometz, claiming I’d gotten punished from Above for it. And my devoted now-married brothers call me every year the night before Pesach. “Just making sure,” they ask, straight-faced, “Have you found all ten?”   I


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 838)

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