Welcome back to “How Should I Know?” – the column to go to when your father says, “Ask Mommy,” and your mother says, “Ask Tatty.”  That way, when they ask, “Who gave you permission to do this?” you can say, “How Should I Know?”

Dear Mordechai,

Why does my father always say that cholent is Gan Eden, yet an hour later he has a stomach ache?  He has this same routine every week.


Dear D.,

Cholent actually is Gan Eden.  Unfortunately, though, you’re eating it in olam hazeh.  Every bit of Gan Eden you experience in this world takes a little bit of schar off of your total, so you have to go through a little bit of Gehinom afterward to balance things out.  I don’t know much about the actual Gan Eden, but I picture that eating cholent there will have no ill effects.  (I dream pretty small.)

But in this world, there has to be a balance.  That’s why delicious foods, such as Slurpees, are usually not that good for you, while not-such-good foods, such as kale, are awesome for you.  Kale is especially good for you, because not only does it not taste that great, but if you want to eat it you have to check it for bugs first.  You don’t have to check Slurpees for bugs.

And literally everything in life is better if you’re holding a bowl of cholent in front of you – from shmoozing to learning to Shabbos walks to running on treadmills to swimming to waiting for your wife to come out of the dressing room to business meetings to dental appointments to annual doctor checkups to jury duty to the hospital’s delivery room.  It’s the Shabbos version of coffee!  Except that unlike coffee, you very rarely hear anyone say, “Whoa, I think you’ve had way too much cholent!”  Though people do say it about themselves.


Dear Mordechai,

When is the best time to learn with my kids over these short winter Shabbosos?


Dear Y.,

I assume you already know about Friday night.  But Friday nights are crazy enough, because you want to relax and play a game with the kids and schmooze with your guests and take a walk with your wife and fall asleep in front of a sefer and maybe hit a shalom zachor, and you’re already pushing it on how many things you can cram into one Friday night and still call it “relaxed” without fitting in time to learn with each kid individually.  Sure, you can come up with one sefer that you can learn with everyone at once, but every time I mention to a rebbi that my kids get excited about learning things they don’t even learn in school, he says, “They should really be learning what we’re learning.”  Like there’s a halacha.

Motzoei Shabbosos are long too, though it’s not so easy to sit down with a sefer, with everything that’s going on at home.  So a lot of neighborhoods have something called “father-son learning”, in which you can bring your sons – or your father (I usually bring my sons) – and learn with more than one kid at a time on the same side of the table as quick as you can before the arbitrary time that someone gets up and starts telling a story, which is 100% not why you’re there, at which point you have to stop the learning, wherever you’re up to, and be quiet for 15 minutes, after which someone raffles off some prizes from Amazing Savings and then all the kids race over to grab some nosh and a can of caffeinated sugar, and then the entire place packs out, even though you still have more to learn, according to that sheet you have to sign. 

You’d think it would be easier to learn at home and not have to find parking or learn in a rush, and you can just give your kids nosh and raffle off something from Amazing Savings (though somehow, in my family, no one would win) and then your wife can interrupt you with a long story.  But it’s hard to learn at home on a Motzoei Shabbos. 

So what I usually do is daven Hashkama, and then I learn with my kids for the rest of the morning until my wife gets home from the late minyan.  Because for some reason, even though the afternoon is shorter in the winter, the morning somehow is not.  I don’t know the science of how that works.


Dear Mordechai,

I was expecting my in-laws later tonight, but I just got a text from my spouse that they’re on their way and will be here in two hours.  I’m the only one home, and the house is nowhere near clean yet, not to mention the kids’ room that they’re sleeping in.  What do I do?   


Dear M.,

Not to add stress, but you also probably have to make them supper, which you didn’t expect to do.  Sure, you were going to make your family supper, but now you have to pretend you make nutritious suppers every night that conform to your in-laws’ food preferences.  You were just going to do noodles.

And sure, there’s a school of thought that says in-laws are basically parents, and they’re not judging you, but I don’t know.  The first time you met them they were definitely judging you, and first impressions are everything. 

So here’s my advice: Don’t panic.  Go outside, get in your car, and drive away.  (Stay with me here.)  Don’t drive too far.  Just a few blocks, and not in a direction where the in-laws will pass your car on the way into town.  Then walk back to your house and start cleaning. 

This will buy you extra time.  Do not text your spouse back.  You did not get their message.  You were out of the house, and your phone was off.   


As far as your in-laws know, they’re going to get to your house and see no cars.  They’re going to call the house and you’re not going to pick up the phone.  Then they’re going to call your spouse, who will say, “I don’t know; I haven’t been able to reach him or her all day.”  (Your spouse won’t say “him or her”; your spouse will know which one.)  So now they’ll be outside your house, waiting.  Maybe they’ll say, “Let’s find something to do in town -- go to a restaurant or something,” which will deal with the supper issue. 

Either way, when you finally finish cleaning, you leave out the back door, climb over fences, go back to your car, and drive home, the impression being, “Oh, sorry, I was out all day.  Wait, my phone wasn’t working?”

If you’d like, for extra measure, on the way out of the house you can take some food out of the cabinets and put them in shopping bags and throw them over the fence before you start climbing.  That way, they see you actually getting out of the car with shopping bags (preferably from stores near your house, not near theirs) and you don’t have to say anything. 

If you’re uncomfortable lying to your in-laws, play it like this: When they show up, say, “Oh, I was just about to start cleaning the house because the in-laws are coming.  You know how it is when in-laws come, right?  Here, grab a broom.”  I don’t know your in-laws, but I assume they’ve had in-laws. 

I guess whether you’re willing to do that is going to boil down to whether you just want them to see a clean house or whether you want them to believe that it’s always clean.  I personally have been married for 18 years, and ever time my in-laws show up, my house is clean.  And yes, sometimes they’re here for a few days, and by the time they leave, the house isn’t clean, but they know that when they get here it is, so my hope is that they’re wondering that maybe it’s them. 

Your other option is to tell your spouse to come home from work and run out to school and pick up all your kids so they can clean their rooms.  That way, you don’t have to lie to your in-laws; you just have to lie to the school.  Or you don’t, and when the school asks why, tell them it’s a family emergency.  That is 100% not a lie.  If this isn’t a family emergency, what is?

Or you can say that an appointment got moved, which is also 100% true.

And then, before your in-laws show up, you want to bring the kids back to school, so your in-laws don’t know.  Otherwise they’ll come and say, “Why are all the kids home?  Shouldn’t they be in school?” 

“No, I brought them all home early to see you.” 

Then you can watch them silently judge it.

As for how you’re going to get any work done that morning before your in-laws show up, you’re probably not.  Unless you could like turn it into an article.

Have a question for “How Should I Know?”  You have to wake up pretty early in the morning.

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia, a monthly humor columnist, and has written six books, all published by Israel Book Shop.  He also does freelance writing for hire.  You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.