June 13, 2024
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June 13, 2024
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Passover: The Telltale Pretzel: Shemot: 13: 7

Barry Stern was not much of a cleaner. Truth be told, he was a slob, a big slob (there, you dragged it out of me). So when it came time for Passover cleaning, his wife Cheryl did not have high hopes that Barry was going to pull his weight. Each child in the family had been given a cleaning assignment to complete. Jason, the 11-year-old, was in charge of straightening up the toys in the basement. Ariella, the 8-year-old, had to clean out her dresser. Michal, the 5-year old, had to arrange the shoes in her closet and check for chometz under her bed. Joel, the 1-year-old, was given a pass. But no one expected Barry to do much of anything. Every year he claimed he was going to help more than he had in the past. He would clean out the garage. He would go through his closet and throw away old shoes, maybe a hanger or two. But every year something came up, and the time slipped away. So Cheryl gave Barry just one assignment: He had to clean out the car.

Cleaning the car for Passover may not seem like a daunting assignment. After all, an automobile is a self-enclosed, finite space, not particularly large in comparison to the entire house that Cheryl cleaned. But it was actually a fairly decent job. Four kids and a messy husband can spill lots of food out of their seats over a year, especially on long family trips, and a car is loaded with nooks and crannies* where chometz can hide. So Cheryl appreciated that Barry took care of this every year.

Barry took his task seriously. Every year he would set out with a pocketful of quarters to feed into one of those giant vacuum cleaners at the car wash. He would crawl through the minivan on his hands and knees, thrusting the vacuum hose into the folds of the seats and into every crevice he could reach. His Honda minivan was a jungle, in which small pieces of popcorn, animal crackers and chocolate could be hiding just beyond his field of vision. And don’t get him started on the granola bars! They shouldn’t even be allowed in a Jewish motor vehicle. But after an hour of battling with the smallest potential particles of leaven, not to mention the leaves, wrappers, crayons and old school projects that such a hunting expedition unearths, Barry would return home, strutting from the garage into the house like a conquering hero, where he would eventually utter, “You won’t believe what I found under the kids’ seats!”

None of the children wanted to come along this year, each deeply involved in his or her own assignment, so Barry jumped into the Honda and set off alone. Barry knew that success in his mission would require a certain amount of cunning, for he was not the only father sent out to search for chometz that day. Hundreds of fathers all over Passaic had been deputized by their wives to perform the same task. To beat out the hordes trolling the local car washes for a vacuum cleaner, you had to be on top of your game.

Barry pulled out onto Route 3 and went west. Years earlier he had scouted out a car wash all the way on the far side of Clifton, the next town over, that no other chometz hunters knew of. There he could vacuum in peace, with no worries of competition for the hose. Those other dads had no idea who they were dealing with.

Sure enough, when Barry got to the Clifton Splash and Go on Paulison Avenue, he was all alone. He parked his minivan and pulled out all the car seats, the stroller, the jumper cables, the soccer ball, and the two lawn chairs. Barry dropped his quarters into the slot, and the vacuum cleaner erupted with the loud sucking sound that instills fear into the hearts of old M&M’s everywhere.

The car cleaning started out uneventfully. The back seat had the usual crumbs and detritus that a year of family life will create. Things were actually going smoothly until Barry reached the moveable second row bucket seats. Underneath the front right floor hook was a small three inch long cylinder, one quarter inch in diameter. It appeared to be made of wheat, but if Barry could have checked the ingredients, he would have found that this particular pretzel, a Herr’s Whole Grain Pretzel Stick, contained wheat flour, corn flour, rye flour, soy flour, rice flour, barley flour, oat flour, buckwheat flour, and flax flour. I’m not kidding. It was a veritable chometz and kitniot smorgasbord.

Barry tried to suction it out with the vacuum nozzle, but it wouldn’t budge. He tried to pry it out with his finger, but he couldn’t reach it. After trying to suction it out for over five minutes, Barry gave up and finished cleaning the car. He drove home listening to some old Avraham Fried on the CD player, but he lacked his usual sense of triumph over the dirt in the car. Deep down he knew that the pretzel stick still dwelled deep in his seat mechanism. You couldn’t see it unless you searched for it on all fours, but it was there. He tried to put it out of his mind. He didn’t have to get it out. The pasuk in the Torah pertaining to the removal of chometz stated: Matzot yeyachel eit shivat hayamim veloh yeyra’eh lecha chometz, veloh yeyra’eh lechah se’or bichol gevulecha. Matzoh shall be eaten throughout the seven day period; no chometz may be seen in your possession, nor leaven may be seen in your possession in all your borders. He wasn’t supposed to own any chometz. But on the eve of the holiday, when he read the Kol chamirah vechamiyah paragraph, nullifying any chometz he couldn’t find, or didn’t dispose of, he would include the dreaded pretzel, and he would no longer be responsible for its existence. No one would know. Barry felt better.

Barry pulled the minivan into the driveway, and Cheryl came out to inspect the car.

“So, how did it go?”

“O.K.,” Barry volunteered.

“O.K.? Just O.K.? Usually you’re preening like a rooster when you get back from the car wash.”


Cheryl slid open the side door and looked in.

“Wow. It’s perfect.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Barry exclaimed. The pretzel had become a malevolent presence, lurking under the seat like a telltale heart.** He went into the garage and came out with his tool kit. To the amazement of his wife, he climbed back into the Honda and got on his hands and knees with two screwdrivers and a pair of tweezers. But even that didn’t work. The pretzel wouldn’t come out in one piece, and if he broke it up, he would create a chometz metastasis that would creep through the seat mechanism like a cancer.

In the end, Cheryl helped Barry unlock the bucket seat from its anchors (Barry was both a slob and mechanically challenged), and he captured the pretzel in one piece, much like a surgeon removing an infected appendix. The operation was a success.

Barry could have tossed the pretzel in the trash, like any other wayward piece of chometz apprehended during the pre-Passover purge, but instead he saved it to dispose of with the bread pieces he removed during bedikat chometz. It made the burning of the chometz that much more sweet (though perhaps salty would have been a better choice for an adjective, since the pretzel was covered with poppy seeds, caraway seeds, sesame seeds, and salt).

*My apologies to the makers of Thomas’ English Muffins

**My apologies to Edgar Allen Poe

Larry Stiefel is a pediatrician at Tenafly Pediatrics and author of the Torah story blog themaggidofbergenfield.com

By Larry Stiefel

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