April 15, 2024
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April 15, 2024
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Pesach: The Case of the Missing Chametz


Then the beams of flashlights.

Followed by the glow of a candle.

The Birnbaum family was scouring the house for the last morsels of chametz before the Passover holiday began. The bedikat chametz search party roamed the main floor of the Birnbaum residence, looking for any leaven that might have missed the cleanup effort of the last week, as if that were possible. Joanna Birnbaum had gone over her house more thoroughly than a search and rescue team on Mount Hood. She had even found things she wasn’t looking for: an errant earring from under the fridge that she had been missing for six months. A sequined headband from under the couch in the den that had elicited a 45-minute crying fit from Esty when it had gone missing in January. A race-car piece from a Monopoly set long gone. Three of Eli’s old pacifiers. Six socks. There was no way any chametz could had survived the purge. Still, the search went on.

To ensure that the bedika would be successful, Joanna always concealed 10 pieces of bread wrapped in aluminum foil in hiding places around the house. It guaranteed something to burn for biur chametz the next morning and gave the kids a sense of accomplishment when they found them. Her husband, Jonathan, could barely find his glasses when they were resting on his nose, let alone small morsels of bread by the light of a candle. The kids used the flashlights for the serious searching, but Jonathan went with the candle and the feather for a more traditional bedika.

Joanna kept a careful list to make sure all 10 were present and accounted for at the end of the night:

Living Room

  1. Under the couch cushion
  2. Next to the DVD player
  3. On top of the copy of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “Stories for Children” on the bookcase
  4. Next to the magazine rack

Dining Room

  1. Under the credenza
  2. On Jonathan’s chair


  1. In the microwave
  2. On top of the refrigerator


  1. Behind the fireplace screen
  2. Under Esty’s teddy bear

The bread was hidden in plain sight. Joanna followed behind the children with her list, checking off the bread as it was located. Michael and Danny had found the morsels in the living room with ease. Their mom pretty much hid them in the same place every year. Esty had uncovered the one under her teddy bear with glee. The kids let their father find the ones in the kitchen with their little brother so that Eli could feel a sense of accomplishment. When it was all done, they dropped the loot in a disposable aluminum pan to be burnt in the morning.

Joanne counted the bread pieces while the kids went to get into their pajamas. Jonathan took a deep breath to blow out his candle.


Everyone stopped in his or her tracks.

“I only have nine pieces. Form a search party and find me my chametz.”

Everyone retraced their steps and checked in all the places that Joanne had listed, but all the bread was gone.

Joanne checked her hand-written chametz guide, and apparently the bread left next to the DVD player had not been checked off her list.

“This is bad, very bad,” she said.

“Maybe Eliyahu Hanavi took one,” Michael suggested.

The withering look on Joanne’s face stopped anyone from laughing.

“This reminds me of a whodunit story,” Jonathan said, his face still glowing in the candlelight. ‘The Case of the Disappearing Chametz.’ Once upon a time in a small New Jersey town…”

“Don’t even think of going there,” Joanne said.

Jonathan stopped talking.

The Birnbaums turned on all the lights and searched again, but to no avail. Joanne looked exasperated. It would definitely be bad form if a piece of chametz, practically gift wrapped, showed up somewhere in the house on Pesach.

“We are going to keep looking until we find that bread,” she announced.

“Big deal,” Michael said. “So we didn’t find a piece of chametz. We did our best.”

“Actually, it is a big deal,” Jonathan said. “The law states that you should own no chametz, and none should be found in your house on all the days of Pesach. I think that by removing all the bread and all the leavened food from your possession, and living just on matzah, the bread of affliction, and Passover foods, you’re showing how we were slaves in Egypt, living on slaves’ rations. Through our dietary restrictions we are reminded of how the miracle of the exodus was entirely an act of God, for our benefit. That’s why the Jews in the time of the Temple ate the Paschal Lamb, the ultimate sign of Jewish freedom, with matzah and bitter herbs. We link the freedom to the slavery. So the complete lack of chametz in our houses shows our reliance on God for our freedom.”

“I found it,” Esty called out.

Everyone rushed into the den.

Sitting in the center of the carpeting was Eli, the Birnbaum’s 18-month-old. At his feet was the unwrapped piece of aluminum foil, and on his face were bread crumbs and a big smile.

“Eli, I should have known it was you all along, you mazik,” his mother said with a chuckle.

“Well, that’s one less piece of chametz to burn,” Jonathan observed.

Everyone laughed as Joanna scooped Eli up and tickled his belly to squeals of delight.

“I think this tops the time he fed the oatmeal into the VCR,” Danny said.

“Or the time he spilled the garlic powder all over the kitchen,” Michael added.

“How about the roll of toilet paper he flushed down the toilet?” Esty suggested.

“Enough,” Joanne said. “At least the story has a happy ending.”

“Nonetheless, I still have a good ghost story to tell about the chametz that terrorized Tenafly. Once upon a time…”

“Goodnight everyone,” Joanne said, carrying Eli up the stairs.

Everyone accompanied her upstairs to go to sleep.

“Aw, come on, no takers?”

By Larry Stiefel

 Larry Stiefel is a pediatrician at Tenafly Pediatrics.


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